Centres in Thimphu alone produce 250 bags of waste daily

Choki Wangmo 

On average, Greener Way collects 250 bags of waste from the quarantine centres across Thimphu every day.

The amount of waste generated is expected to only increase. As of yesterday, there were 121 quarantine centres in the country according to the health ministry.

For instance, if there are 50 centres in Thimphu, the daily waste generated from these centres is 12,500 bags.

Within three days, a quarantine centre produced 23 bags of food waste and 43 bags of dry waste. The designated official who oversees the proper collection of waste at the centre, Bhawani Shankar said that the majority of dry waste was generated from food packaging and packaged snacks. The wastes are disposed of once in three days after disinfecting them.

He said that there are designated areas marked in red from where Greener Way collects it. It is then completely burnt for five hours in Hejo.

However, few people complained about the pollution from open-pit burning.

Project Manager at the health ministry, Sonam Tenzin, said that according to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, only the waste from positive cases should be incinerated or burnt but the country is taking extra precaution to contain the spread of Covid-19 outbreak. “We are one step ahead in managing the waste.”

“Burning is the safest method as Bhutan does not have other alternatives such as incinerators,” he added.

Chief of waste management division in the National Environment Commission (NEC), Thinley Dorji, said that the trend of waste generated is increasing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  As per international best practices, infectious waste is autoclaved and incinerated.

Thinley Dorji said that the country doesn’t yet have an incinerator and burning is the safest method to curb the infection. “People may complain about pollution from burning but it is better than spreading the virus by improper disposal of such hazardous waste.”

Prime Minister’s Office instructed NEC to procure an incinerator to manage infectious waste and the commission is working on it, he said, adding the installation of an incinerator was in the National Waste Management Flagship Programme but had to be fast-forwarded on the urgent need basis.

Greener Way CEO Karma Yonten said that the collectors were cautious while handling the waste. The four waste collectors work from 9am until 11pm. He said that as the thromde and the health ministry faced a shortage of human resource, the company volunteered to collect and manage the waste.

“We are handling the waste according to the general guidelines but it is risky for our workers although we wear protective gears,” he said.

The waste handlers are vulnerable because if they come in contact with infected wastes, it could increase the risk of spreading the virus, Karma Yonten said.

WHO recommends people handling health care waste to wear appropriate gear, including boots, aprons, long-sleeved gowns, thick gloves, masks, and goggles or face shields.