YK Poudel

Travelling through Memelakha Landfill in Thimphu is a grim experience. The air is thick with the nauseating stench of decaying waste, growing more overpowering with each passing day.

The scrap dealers at the site count over 300 trips of waste-dumped at the landfill.

Everything, whether recyclable or not—like kitchen waste, clothes, food wrappers, broken furniture, both solid and electronic waste, damaged PVC water pipes, beer bottles, food cans, books, and pens—is dumped openly at the site.

The recent World Bank report titled “Bhutan Country Environmental Analysis: Taking the Green Growth Agenda Forward” highlights a significant issue: Bhutan doesn’t have adequate waste disposal solutions, such as proper sanitary landfill infrastructure or facilities to convert waste into energy.

The report warns that “plastic leakage” poses a growing threat to Bhutan’s environment and aquatic ecosystems. It emphasizes that municipal waste management is a pressing issue across the country.

The government’s Zero Waste Bhutan app functions as a tracker for waste-related offenses. So far, it has recorded 436 offenses and 369 incidents of waste-related issues.

According to the National Waste Inventory Survey (NWIS) of 2019, Bhutan produces 172.16 metric tonnes (MT) of solid waste every day.

In Thimphu Thromde, waste collection vehicles separate waste into categories like wet, dry, hazardous, and other waste. The waste strategy aims to decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills to less than 20 percent by 2030.

Thimphu and Phuentsholing has the highest density of plastic waste production—with 18,000 tonnes of plastic consumption per year and waste generation of 14,000 tonnes annually.


Bhutan is one of the fastest urbanising countries in south asia. By 2047, the share of Bhutan’s urbanisation is projected to reach 56.8 percent.

Congestion pressure with increasing population, demand on land for housing, and infrastructure among others, as the cause of environmental pollution.

“Heavy-duty transport vehicles are responsible for at least 70 percent of the local pollutants and 60 percent of greenhouse gases emission in the country,” a report says.

Nationally, households generate over 80 tonnes of solid waste per day, of which 51 percent is generated in urban areas.

According to the officials from the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), the quantity of waste generated has a direct relation with the changing consumption patterns of the society and increased economic activities.

As per a 2021 record, the daily average of the waste disposed at the landfill was 54 MT. There are no weighbridges specific for measuring waste generation or waste dumped at landfill, daily waste data is collected via estimation of the number of trips to the landfill, volume of waste compactor and density of waste type.

“The waste generation has increased from packaged food and beverages, single use plastics and other commercial packaging materials, e-waste, food waste, construction waste, waste-water and other materials,” a DECC official said. “We share a collective responsibility to recycle, minimise packaging and be responsible towards managing waste.”

Illegal dumping of waste and littering is one of the major challenges faced by DECC with no effective method other than carrying out cleaning campaign advocacies through CSOs and NGOs among others.

“Inappropriate timing and location of waste collection points are the two reasons for not availing the waste collection vehicle service, ” the DECC officials said.

In Thimphu, for example, waste disposed at the landfill increased by about 4,800 MT in 2021 compared with 2019—about 14,824.8 MT of waste was disposed in 2019.

A study by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Bhutan Office in 2019 shows that Phuentsholing generated 17.2 tonnes of waste of which 15.3 tonnes was collected and 14.6 tonnes of waste was dumped in landfill. Similarly, Gelephu produced six tonnes of waste, of which 5.4 tonnes was collected and 5.1 tonnes of waste was dumped in landfill. In Samdrupjongkhar 5.7 tonnes waste was produced but waste collected was 5.1 tonnes and 4.8 tonnes of waste went to the landfill.

The study found that almost all the waste collected was deposited at the landfill. Without physical expansion, landfill in the four thromdes might not be able to handle the amount of waste coming in.

By 2024, Thimphu is expected to generate 68.6 tonnes a day; Phuentsholing could produce 68.6 tonnes a day; while Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar could produce about 5.8 tonnes of waste a day.


The nation has implemented a ‘Zero-Waste Hour’ campaign with the second day of every month all government offices, agencies and institutions participate in cleaning their respective periphery.

During the 12th Five Year Plan, according to DECC, the Waste Flagship Programme was initiated with Thimphu Thromde and dzongkhag as the focus: integrated waste management facility was established at Memelakha, waste material segregation facility, waste drop-off centres and recycling measures were taken up.

“Waste collection in Thimphu Thromde and dzongkhag is outsourced to two private businesses who work with other recyclers,” the officials from DECC said.

With the flagship programme nine drop-off centres were established in Thimphu thromde.

Looking ahead

The 13th FYP stresses on meeting the long-term goal of reducing waste going to the landfill and recover waste promoting recycling value-chain. “Promotion of circular economy—development of integrated waste management estates shall be focussed.”

These estates, as per the officials, will engage with the private sectors to recover the waste materials, promote recycling businesses, initiate waste to energy projects and initiate other measures.

With the implementation of the flagship programme, it started with the national waste inventory survey in 2019, that paved a way forward other programmes such as website for zero waste Bhutan, integration of ecology note in school education, procurement of incinerators, and biogas facility at Memelakha among other outcomes.

The department stated that the Memelakha Landfill has been expanded and modified numerous times since 1994 to increase its lifespan and safety. “Modifications include installation of vent and leachate pipes, and construction of leachate collection tank.”

The plan is to initiate materials recovery facility, sanitary landfill and the biogas plant to ensure that the waste disposed of atMemelakha decreases.

The programme stretches across the nation with nine waste collection electric garbage vehicles procured—Paro, Thimphu Thromde and dzongkhag, Punakha, and the national referral hospital.

Memelakha will host a sanitary landfill, biogas plant, incineration plant, and waste recycling plants in addition to the existing waste stock yard, bio-medical and hazardous waste incinerator.



The United Nations Environment Assembly that concluded in the first week of March agreed to develop a legally binding treaty by 2024 to end plastic pollution.

The treaty is expected to present a legally binding instrument, reflecting alternatives to address the lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building and scientific and technical cooperation.

In Bhutan, the ban on plastics that was imposed in 1999 remains largely ineffective. The National Environment Commission on January 14, 2019, issued a notification reinforcing the plastic ban.

According to the National Statistics Bureau’s 2020 survey, plastic and paper waste comprise 17.1 and 15.8 percent respectively in Bhutan.