Cover story: The Clock Tower Square on June 5 was filled with the sounds of students, residents and organisations united in the fight against environment’s most pressing issues.
Organisations such as Greener Way, Clean Bhutan, and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), distributed materials on sustainable practices, while the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) cleaned up the main street, and MyBhutan and K Gangri Primary School taught attendees how to reuse discarded materials.
The event coincided with World Environment Day and Pedestrian Day, a uniquely Bhutanese initiative, where residents in town walk instead of driving. The event showcased materials and hosted discussions and performances to promote sustainability, recycling, composting and proper waste management.
Bhutan is often domestically and internationally characterised as an environmentally-friendly country. Just recently, the country beat the Guinness World Record by planting the most trees in one hour. Bhutan is also the only carbon sink country in the world, absorbing more CO2 than it emits, and the country’s largest export is a renewable energy, hydropower. 72 percent of the landscape is forested, and conservation of the environment is one of the 4 pillars that support Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index. However, although Bhutanese believe in environmentalism as an idea, when it comes to action, they, like most people around the world, fall short. Litter can be found floating in rivers and clotting the busier streets.
RSPN’s Ugyen Choden spoke on this issue and the importance of educating students and residents on proper ways to dispose waste. “The environmental community here feels that waste management is failing in Bhutan. We know that the children are aware of waste as a problem but we have to create action plans for them to do what we preach.”
In recent years, these action plans have included not only conventional initiatives such as clean ups and educational seminars, but also unconventional ones. As Nedup Tshering, project director for Clean Bhutan declares: “Sometimes, when conventional initiatives don’t work, we need to divert our interests to unconventional ones.”
Nedup’s work pushes people to “not be consumeristic.”
“The government and NGOs have been trying to fix the waste problem for 30 years and it wasn’t working. So we decided to try something different and, within one year, we’ve been able to reduce 50 percent of waste accumulated in the packaging of offerings.”
This different approach brings Nedup to monasteries and other religious sites, where he educates people on waste management. By giving them a holistic understanding of the issue, and describing the history and the reasons why people are now pushing for better waste practices, he believes that people will be more likely to throw away or recycle used materials.
He also uses social media to push his agenda.
“I have a name and shame programme where I post pictures of people littering on social media. If it’s a taxi driver, I snap a picture of their license plate number and send it to the relevant authorities. It has definitely received a lot of attention and helped curb littering.”
His next endeavour will concentrate on kids, specifically those about to graduate class 12 or college. “A lot of students are active participants in environmental action plans but, as soon as they leave school, their daily sustainable practices and support in the green movement dwindles.”
He hopes to keep them active within the environmental community and inspire them to continue living green lifestyles. And when they start raising families? Nedup encourages them “to educate their children on sustainable practices.” Because the best education begins at home.
Events such as these are also a great tool for environmentalism.
“However, this is new,” Dechen Tshomo, a Greener Way volunteer, says while discussing the event. “When I was a kid, yes, we participated in clean ups but we didn’t know where the waste was going, so we continued to litter. But with events such as these, the kids learn the implications of their actions, these events go beyond just a clean up.”
Greener Way, Bhutan’s first waste management company, has, since 2010, educated the public on the proper way to dispose of trash, composting and recycling. MyBhutan, in partnership with Greener Way and coinciding with Greener Way’s “For Generations Beyond” mission, hosted the K. Gangri Primary School to teach attendees fun ways to reuse discarded materials.
MyBhutan, an organisation that creates social enterprises and support the philanthropic efforts of Tarayana Foundation, the first being a tour portal that hosts local agencies launching later this summer, also works to promote and provide ways to create a cleaner, more sustainable Bhutan. Having participated in a trash pickup with Greener Way, earlier this spring, MyBhutan continues to encourage the public to implement environmentally friendly practices in their daily lives.
The K Gangri Primary School is an eco-national school that focuses on developing students to be competitive within the global market and creating leaders in the environmental field. (Read separate story on K Gangri).
MyBhutan and K Gangri Primary School committed to teaching the public fun ways to reuse discarded materials. Prior to the event, Junction Bookstore employees’ taught MyBhutan team members how to make newspaper bags out of reusable materials.
At the event, MyBhutan taught students, the Greener Way team and visitors how to do the same. The bags were made out of newspaper, milk cartons, string and glue made by mixing flour and water. After the students folded and glued their new apparel together, they filled them with badges that they had acquired from a local hotel in Paro.
The badges, destined for the trash, gained a new, greener purpose. The students placed m ottos such as “Go Green!” and “I Recycle!” on the badges. They then walked around town, handing out the badges and encouraging people to not only wear their creations but also to adhere to what the badges say.
The students ended the day with a lunch hosted by Le Meridien, another partner in Bhutan’s growing movement towards a zero-waste, completely sustainable future.
Contributed by Sarah Cahlan