A waste management firm in Paro, Druk Waste Management, received a call from a shopkeeper a month ago.

It was after 6pm but since the woman said it was an emergency, the employees of the firm attended the call past their working hour.

An employee, Ratan Guring, said the woman had stacks of expired juiceboxes for disposal.

Since the volume of waste was huge, the employees asked help from the shop owner to carry it into the vehicle. “The shop owner refused to help saying it is our responsibility. She said we have to do the work because of our karmic behavior in the past.”

The incident was shared at the first national waste entrepreneur conference held in Wangdue on March 30.

Lack of respect for employees of waste management firms, repetitive change in tax exemption policies, and classification of waste management firms as service sector were raised as some of the major issues in the waste management industry.

A founding member of Eco Waste Solution in Wangdue, Dhan Kumar, said that although waste management firms were social entrepreneurs, the firms were not exempted from paying tax.

He said that waste management firms that began after 2016 were exempted from tax payment. “However, Greener Way which began in 2010 is also exempted from paying tax,” he said. 

“It is not fair that firms which began before 2016 are not given the same exemption.”

Lack of inclusion of waste management firms while discussing policy changes and the need for a green allowance for improvement of basic needs of the employees were also raised.

“Retaining employees in waste management firms is a challenge as well. For Eco Waste Solution, we try to provide children’s tuition fee for them to stay,” Dhan Kumar said.

Waste management firms are classified into service sector today. This, according to the entrepreneurs meant equal loan interests from the banks as tourism and hotel industries, which are also in the same category.

“We are not just entrepreneurs who work for an income. We are social entrepreneurs that benefit the environment,” founder of Bhutan Alternatives in Thimphu, Leki Dawa said.

In three years, Bhutan Alternatives employed more than 30 people, Leki Dawa, said. Bhutan Alternatives refurbishes printer cartridges.

This classification and recognition of waste management firms as business entity excludes the firms from receiving funds from international organisations and the government.

“We are also not eligible for the annual awards organised by the government for CSIs,” Leki Dawa said.

It was decided that the issues discussed at the conference would be raised to the Cabinet and other relevant stakeholders.

Eight entrepreneurs from across the country attended the conference. Students from the College of Natural Resources, and Bajo Higher Secondary School also attended the conference.

There are about 19 waste management entrepreneurs in the country today.

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue