Expert says burning of wastes emit extremely harmful pollutants

Pollution: Prior to the winter season, forest officials in Wangdue visit villages in Wangdue and Punakha to provides awareness on proper disposal of waste, waste segregation and on avoiding burning harmful and solid waste in forestlands.

This awareness according to Chencho Dendup, a forest official in Wangdue is conducted alongside forest fire prevention awareness almost every year. This, he said, is to help avoid forest fires and also the growing waste disposal in the forests. “We also inform people on timing of burning agriculture debris and to seek required permission,” he said.

Although there were no records maintained with the forest offices, officials said most forest fires in the country were caused due to human negligence either due to burning of agriculture debris or waste near forests or bushes.

Forest officials said they do permit burning of agriculture debris but people have to follow certain timings. They also permit burning of wastes after proper segregation and require burning in pits near their homes. They don’t permit the burning of solid wastes like plastic and bottles, he said.

However, despite strong rules and regulations in place, burning of solid wastes or disposal of wastes in forests and nearby roadside areas remains challenging.

As per forest fire rules, those guilty of causing forest fires due to permitted burning of agriculture debris would be fined Nu 10,000 and charged with a suppression cost. Forest fires caused due to unpermitted burning of agriculture debris would be fined Nu 50,000.

Officials said the National Environment Commission also gives incentives to the informer from the fine collected on those who were found disposing wastes in forest areas.

A review by the Asian Development Bank in 2014 on environmental policies stated that waste management is a growing challenge for Bhutan, as in most developing economies. With rising urbanisation, lack of municipal facilities, and inadequate infrastructure planning, waste threatens negative impacts on the country’s water, air and soil quality.

The review report also stated that open dumping of solid waste is creating unsightly surroundings and that choked drains will result in polluted waterways. This will not only contaminate the natural environment but also pose serious hazards to public health, it stated.

An expert with ICIMOD, Nepal Prakash Bhave, said burning of wastes would emit harmful pollutants such as dioxins, furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

He said burning of wastes is one of the most toxic forms of pollutions in the South Asian region. When household wastes decay, it emits methane, carbon dioxide and small amounts of other gases. This combination is referred to as “landfill gas”.

Prakash Bhave said landfill gases have an influence on climate change. The major components are carbon dioxide and methane. The best solution to managing waste pollution is to segregate it at the source, he said.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue