One moment, our Prime Minister is rubbing shoulders with leaders of the world calling for regional collaboration, the next, he is on a hill picking up our trash.
That our Prime Minister has resolved to picking up other people’s trash on the Taba-Langjopakha highway is perhaps an indication that there is exasperation at the lack of progress on our waste habits. It’s not improving, or not fast enough.
Lyonchoen is attempting to lead by example. It would be safe to assume that based on his actions, he hopes we will either also follow and pick up trash littering our neighbourhoods, or be more careful in disposing of our wastes.
The effort is inspiring.
Whenever the media covers the issue, we hear of rules and various measures in place, but that the concerned agency is facing a lack of budget or human resources.
For instance, only yesterday, we published an article about how more trash is being dumped in our forests. With more roads being constructed into our forests, people are actually transporting their garbage into the forests for disposal.
Despite rules being in place, the forest department is facing a human resource shortage to effectively monitor and enforce rules.
The problem is there will always be these challenges. If we cannot enforce the rules because of such challenges, a stick approach is unlikely to work. We need to approach the situation from a different angle.
The Prime Minister personally picking up trash is one way. This sets an example not only for us, the common citizen, but other government and municipality officials. If we see those who tell us not to pollute, not pollute themselves, we will take them more seriously.
Others are also setting examples. We have a volunteer group, Clean Bhutan, regularly cleaning up areas of Thimphu and raising awareness. We have periodic cleaning campaigns organised by offices and companies, among others.
Some progress is being made. We are learning to segregate waste. Recycling plants are being set up.
At least one local company, Happy Chips, is buying back its packaging. Other local companies should follow suit as part of their corporate social responsibility.
The waste collection system also requires improvement. Trash bins have been removed because we now have a waste collection system. But complaints about inconsistent timing persist resulting in trash being dumped all over the place. Either improvement or a balance needs to occur.
On the enforcement part, given the lack of resources, education and awareness is the only answer. It has to start in the schools. One of the most important lessons we need to inculcate in our children is to clean up after themselves and to take their trash home or to the nearest bin. It is important that this lesson is integrated into the formal education system so that it becomes a part of our culture.