Starting April 1, 20 years after the first notification was issued, ban on the use or sale of plastic carry bags and doma wrappers will be reinforced.

National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) issued a notification on January 14.

Last year, on November 13, NECS consulted with relevant agencies and decided to reinforce the ban.

NEC’s Secretary, Sonam P Wangdi, said that waste was a big and emerging issue for Bhutan and the country was not properly geared to address the issue.

He said that many dzongkhags do not have a proper landfill. The dzongkhags that have do not segregate waste and dump everything in the landfill, resulting in overflow within a year or two. “They again want new landfill and it just ruins the area. We also have limited land.”

Sonam P Wangdi said that the notification issued in 1999 was not withdrawn and that NEC’s recent notification was not new. “We are reinforcing what was already in place.”

The nationwide ban reinforcement is aimed at managing or addressing waste issue in the country.

He said that many countries were doing away with plastic carry bags because of harm they pose to the environment. “They are not biodegradable and last forever.”

Some dzongkhags like Samdrupjongkhar has already initiated the ban on the use of plastic bags.

Despite various measures put in place to address the waste issue in the country like composting kitchen waste and recycling, he said that there was a need for proper waste infrastructure and waste management system, including waste segregation at source.

“We found that we did better before the Waste Prevention and Management Act of Bhutan was enacted in 2009,” he said.

After the Act came into effect, he said that responsibilities were clear and the stakeholders like the thromde and economic affairs ministry who were earlier inspecting and monitoring the ban on the use and sale of plastics discontinued their duty.

He said that it was not possible for the NEC alone to monitor. “But now we have found a way through our laws. We are requesting competent authorities like BAFRA, economic affairs ministry, RBP and the local governments to help us reinforce the ban.”

He said that before single-use plastic bags were available, people carried their own shopping bags. “Today, the carry bags are easily available, widely used and disposed of everywhere as well.”

Packaging of the vegetables and homemade snacks and edibles for sale with the transparent plastic will be allowed. “For now, the ban is only on the plastic carry bag and doma wrappers. Homemade Ice cream pouches are not relevant anymore,” he said.

The NEC, in the recent notification, requested the relevant agencies to carry out sensitization programme, explore the availability of alternatives, and prepare the monitoring plans and programmes for successful implementation of the ban.

Any business establishment found selling or using the carry bags and plastic pouches for wrapping doma after April 1 will be fined. A fine of Nu 500 will be slapped for the first offence and double the amount for the second offence. A subsequent violation will result in the cancellation of the business licence.

“This time there will be a huge push and the ban will be implemented successfully,” Sonam P Wangdi said. “We appeal to all Bhutanese, as custodians of the environment as enshrined in our constitution, to introspect and support us to reduce waste and in becoming a zero-waste society,” he said.

Dechen Tshomo