If there is one problem that won’t go away easily, it is garbage. It is a big problem because it is not the garbage itself, but our attitude towards it.

Every now and then we hear and see people organizing cleaning campaign. They collect tonnes of rubbish. The amount collected seems not to be decreasing. This is because the message of the campaigns is not seeping into our minds. Any amount of campaign will not be able to clear the streets, rivers, now even forests of the mess we created. The idea is to let people know that garbage is a problem and that we are responsible for it.

It is not that we have not come up with initiatives. The thromde prides in privatizing garbage collection. It has improved. But that is one sided. If we are not taking the garbage to the trucks that dedicatedly come to us, the rubbish will have to be thrown away. The convenient place then becomes empty places- behind walls, in the nooks and corners, roadsides, drains and gullies.

Some campaigns and initiatives like the one Clean Bhutan is organizing are targeting to change the mindset. That is a good strategy. More important than getting rid of the rubbish is imbibing a culture of taking responsibility of the waste we produce. Not having this is the biggest bottleneck today.

The problem is aggravating as the city expands. Walk through the extended Thimphu city for 10 minutes and we will see the extent of the problem. It is no exaggeration to say that we could easily collect 10 sacks of waste from hundred metres in some areas. In fact, it is a shame for the capital’s residents to live with the amount of waste we discard everyday, everywhere.

The thromde cannot be after each of the residents or the landlords. No amount of monitoring can be effective if values are not cultivated. From experience, it is clear that the carrot rule is not working.

It is high time we take the stick rule. The thromde is cash strapped. Development activities are hampered because there is no revenue. Recurrent expenditure is huge, residents are ready to complain of poor services and the elected mayor is under pressure.

Then there are thousands of unemployed youth ready to do any job that could keep them occupied and earn some money. Perhaps it is time we deploy troops of inspectors to stop and penalize people who can’t kick the habit of damaging our environment. One solution could be making tenants and landlords responsible for certain area around the property and penalizing them when not kept clean.

Meanwhile, the thromde or even the government should recognize the people who are making a living out of selling recyclable waste. They may be scavenging the waste mound, but they are helping solve at least a small portion of the problem. A small financial incentive could draw more people to clean the city and earn a better living. They shouldn’t be looked down as mere waste collectors.

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