Weak implementation of polices have compounded to the country’s mounting garbage problem

Garbage: Legislations and rules concerning waste are aplenty, yet the problem of waste continues to mount. It is not waste in itself that is the problem; failure to implement the rules is. And if so it goes along, Bhutan’s target of achieving Zero Waste by 2030 could remain a dream.
There are at least nines Acts that are directly or partially related to waste management. However, implementing and collaborating agencies are facing acute resource challenges. Dzongkhag administrations, in particular, are struggling to address the problem of mounting waste.
Dzongkhags and thromdes now are calling National Environment Commission (NEC) for better resources and suggesting revision of the waste prevention and management rules 2012. Lack of collection vehicles and landfill sites are the major issues facing the municipal authorities and dzongkhag administrations.
“Managing waste becomes difficult with such problems,” said Pemba Tshering, district engineer of Haa. The dzongkhag has one pickup truck for collection. “We do not even get enough budget for fuel.”
Awareness, or the lack of it, is another problem. Thromde officials said that if waste is segregated at the source, a lot of things could be improved. Except for Thimphu, no other thromde has provisions for composting and facilities to treat different waste.
“We can’t even ask people to segregate their waste because we cannot provide the required services for segregated waste,” said environment officer Rinchen Penjor. “There is no composting site.”
Even Class ‘A’ thromdes like Phuentsholing does not have a composting site. Officials said a pilot programme has been initiated at College of Science and Technology and NPPF colony.
Problem could also be because most of the waste management in-charges are engineers who lack waste management knowledge, said one official.
Phuentsholing Thormde’s head of environment section, Kinga Dorji, said that despite awareness, people continue to throw waste in plastic bags by the roadside or into streams. The thromde removed trash bins in the core area of the town and increased collection frequency. But the problem persists.
In Paro, municipal workers visit the localities after office hours to prevent people from dumping garbage in the open.
“Despite the vigilance, we still come across a lot of waste in plastic bags dumped by the roadsides,” said municipal in-charge Sangay Tenzin. Collection becomes a problem when old collection vehicles breakdown frequently.
Gewog administrative officers said that managing waste in the villages is not a serious issue yet. Most resort to burning garbage in the pits.
“There are different kinds of waste. Some can’t be burnt. We don’t know what to do with them,” said a gewog official.
Clean Bhutan, a non-government organisation working on waste management advocacy is conducting a survey in Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse, Mongar and Lhuentse.
Its executive director Nedup Tshering said the waste problem in gewog is small but with larger issue to manage it.
“People buy goods from town and take it to their village and what happens to the waste is a bigger problem to solve since there are no disposal sites nor authorities to manage it,” he said.
He said that while the waste quantity is small, it is difficult to manage due to lack of access to motorable road.
Despite ban, plastic bags constitute majority of waste. Environment officer Rinchen Penjor said that implementing the ban had been problematic from the start.
The landfills in the country, which are mostly ordinary pits, do not have proper measures to control leachate leakage and compaction.
The only landfill in Trongsa, which was constructed in 2003, has already been filled to the brim. This, officials say, happened because of sudden influx of people following the start of the Mangdechu Hydropower Project (MHPA).
The municipal office of Paro municipal has been looking for a landfill site for more than 18 months. The 10-cubic metre landfill with 10 years lifespan is almost full. The landfill was meant for waste from town, but today waste from six gewogs are brought to the landfill.
NEC officials said that there are gaps in rules, which will be fixed within a year so that there is a significant improvement in waste management. Waste Prevention and Management Rules (WPMR) is also being revised. One of the reasons for the revision of the rules is to integrate and harmonise them with National Integrated Solid Waste Management Strategy 2014.
“Ideally, the strategy should be formulated before legislation. However, in our case, strategy was drafted later. Therefore, there could be elements in the strategy which are missing in the regulation,” said NEC’s legal officer Kunzang Rinzin. The current regulation does not impose accountability and penalty on the implementing agencies if they fail to discharge their duty. “So there is a need to keep a tab on the implementing agencies through some penalty and incentivising mechanism.”
The revision would also include propositions from various agencies to make the rules more enforceable. “It’d also look at waste as an asset or resource,” added Kunzang Rinzin.
NEC will soon have a waste division. Royal Civil Service Commission’s organisation development exercise pointed out that there should be a separate waste section. Currently, the compliance and monitoring division with about half a dozen officers share the mandate.
Following a cabinet order last year, NEC has signed agreement with eight dzongkhags on sustainable strategic action plan on waste management on highways, roadsides and towns. The agreement with sectors heads in the dzongkhags mentions specific duties. The gewogs have to identify landfills within three months and the Department of Roads should clear waste dumped on the roads. NEC in consultation with the government will provide funds and resources in order to successfully implement the agreement.
The municipal officials, however, said that creating awareness must be the first priority.
“Awareness should be created about waste management and penalties must be levied if people do not follow the rules,” said an environment officer.
Clean Bhutan’s Nedup Tshering said, “Our recommendation is ‘Avoid Wasteful Consumption’ and educate the people of negative impact from waste.”
By Tshering Palden