Secluded by a long line of bamboo fencing below the Olakha bridge on the Thimphu-Babesa expressway is a scrap dealers’ hub.

The Olarongchu flows by the clustered huts made from old metal sheets. Patches of fresh grasses and new shoots of willow trees indicate the coming of spring. A few dogs bask in the midday sun.

A strong wind starts a whirlpool of dust. However, Mongal Singh Limbu is not bothered.

Standing among empty beer bottles, used mechanical parts, metallic cords, pet bottles, and old vehicle parts, he is busy sorting waste. With a stained pair of thin gloves, he is the segregation master, swiftly compressing the card boxes, arranging beer bottles, crushing pet bottles and folding the copper wires.  

Mongal Singh Limbu works in his brother’s junkyard, run by three brothers. They call themselves the “Sweepers of the city.” 

Residents in the location dump their waste in their yard. The card boxes, electronic materials, pet and beer bottles are then exported to India twice a month. After segregating the recyclables, the leftovers are taken to the Memelakha landfill.

Not segregating waste at source is the biggest problem for them as scrap dealers and for the capital city as a whole, according to the Limbus. “People dump their waste without segregating. It is tedious work,” said Mongal.

He said changing the mindset of public on scrap business is a huge challenge which affects their working environment. “We are the sweepers of Thimphu but the government does not want scrap dealers in the capital,” he said. 

They hope for government intervention to change policies that will benefit scrap dealers in the country. “Currently, we sell the scraps to India at a lower price which is then sold back to Pasakha Industrial state at a higher price. Bhutanese cannot directly take it to Pasakha as there were incidence of theft and robbery of construction materials sold as waste in the past. 

The Limbus believe that if the government can change this rule, money will circulate in the Bhutanese economy. For instance, Bhutanese scrap dealers sell an empty beer bottle for Nu 3 which is then sold back to Pasakha by Indians at Nu 6.”

According to records with the Department of Trade, there are 83 registered scrap dealers in the country. 

Choki Wangmo