Solid Waste Management has become the most challenging issue to every country in the world from developed nations to developing ones. The total solid waste generation in the world amounts approximately 2.01 billion metric tonnes (MT) annually (World Bank, Solid Waste Management study) with an estimated increase of 3.40 billion MT by 2050.
Waste management today being one the most complex subjects considering the vagaries of material possessed in the waste stream, the approaches have to be in bits and pieces identifying the chemical properties in the waste. Bhutan’s recent Waste Inventory Report exhibits that the total waste generation in Bhutan is 172 tonnes daily with medical waste amounting to 996 kilograms approximately. The figures are alarming and call for all stakeholders’ involvement in exploring alternatives for handling and managing waste.
There is ground-swelling support from the government and the general populace to curb the waste management issue, therefore it merits detailed planning as laid out in the National Waste Management Strategy. However, with sudden uncertain cases, we should not resort to any ad hoc decision that has potential to jeopardize any long-term sustainable solutions. With the ongoing discussions in the National Environment Commission, incineration of waste seems appealing, but it however seems to overlook many of the considerations.
We must take note that incineration has always been a subject of controversy from environmental perspectives to the extent of threatening economic models.
Incineration is nothing but burning of everything with oxygen and fuel in a closed chamber. The social costs of incineration are staggering especially in developing countries. The huge amount of capital spent on incineration goes into complicated machinery (over half the capital cost is needed for air pollution control) and most of it leaves the country in the pockets of the multinational companies that build these monsters.
However, with the alternatives of recycling most of the money goes into creating local jobs and local businesses, thereby staying in the community and the country. In Brescia, Italy, they spent about USD 4 million in building an incinerator and have created just 80 full-time jobs. While Nova Scotia, a province of Canada, after rejecting an incinerator, has created over 3,000 jobs in the handling of the discarded resources and in the industries using these secondary materials (https://noharm-global.org).
Therefore, incineration is not ideal and not the solution to the burgeoning waste problem. It is neither sound for the planet environmentally or for the local or national economies. Incinerating four tonnes of waste will reportedly leave at least one tonne of ash: 90 percent is called bottom ash (ash collected from furnace) and 10 percent is the very toxic fly ash. The incinerating approach is now being scrapped off by many countries (European Union) and even the installed incineration plants are capping the limit of waste to be handled.
In Bhutan, the Linear (extraction- manufacture-consumption-waste) to Circular Economy (extraction- manufacture-consumption-waste-recycle) was in operations since the 90’s and its only improving with iterate approaches for creating public awareness, collection of municipal waste to recovery of secondary raw materials and then the disposal of the residual. In the early 90’s, when the only considered recoverable waste from the waste stream were tins and small metal pieces, Bhutan saw small time scrappers and rag pickers enterprising in such a market. But in the following 10 years, there was an increase in many recyclables such as cardboards, papers, and brewery bottles with increased individuals even venturing out as scrap traders. Today, there are more than 250 plus scrappers in the country with 12 registered Municipal Solid Waste Collection (small initiatives). This unorganised sector employs more than 700 Bhutanese workforces.
The Waste Management Flagship Programme is most timely and we as waste handlers (Waste Collection Service Providers) would like to offer our gratitude to the far-sighted vision of our Monarch and the government of the day for prioritising waste management and its issues considering our existence in the economy.
We have to choose and in this case for solid waste management, we cannot afford to make mistakes with such huge social costs at stake.
On Behalf of Waste