It is filthy. The stench could make anyone sick. It is a vast wasteland, literally.
This is Memelakha. That’s where the capital city’s garbage ends up.
Located about 12 kilometres from the city centre, the otherwise beautiful hilltop on the outskirts of Thimphu city is overwhelmed with waste. Built in 1993, Memelakha is the single largest garbage dumpsite in the country.
Today, up to 40 truckloads of wastes from the capital city are dumped at the landfill daily, which spreads over an area of two acres. And the quantity of garbage is expected to increase every year.
When a photojournalist from Kuensel reached the site on March 27, one of the caretakers quickly rushed to him, asking him not to take any pictures. She said taking pictures is only allowed with permission from thromde officials.
“Daju (brother), please don’t take any pictures. City officials will scold us if they see the picture in the media,” the caretaker, wearing a facemask, said.
She is used to the air. “About 30 to 40 truckloads of wastes comes here daily,” she said.
The Memelakha landfill is also home to hundreds of stray dogs and a dozen cattle. The landfill is the source of food to the animals, which has made the surrounding bushes their home and the dumpsite their feeding ground.
The dogs are quick to notice the arrival of waste trucks and movement of the excavator, which levels the dumped waste and covers them with soil. There were about 200 dogs at the landfill in the afternoon of the day.
“Some people leave their unwanted dogs here,” said one of the workers at the site.
Private entities involved in collection of waste said they would not be able to say who what portion of the wastes dumped at the landfill are good for recycling. Proprietor of Greener Way, Karma Yonten, said he did not keep the data on the collection of types of wastes from the landfill.
He told Kuensel that more investment is required to buy better technologies for better management of wastes. A large quantity of the waste are collected and exported to India for recycling.
The landfill was expanded about four years ago. Tanks have been built to collect leachate to prevent it from contaminating the underground water.
The landfill has been extended with a network of pipes and tanks for leachate collection. The extension addressed the mounting waste disposal problem in the capital.
The Thimphu thromde feels that the landfill is capable of holding the city’s waste. Segregation and recycling of waste is the thromde’s main strategy to tackle the mounting waste problem.
Even as the quantity of waste is growing, Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that there are no plans to either expand the landfill or identify a new location. “We will be segregating and recycling wastes,” he said.
The thromde also plans to open five to 10 drop-in centres like the one below Kelki High School. People can take their waste to such centres should they miss the waste trucks.
“There will also be a small decomposing machine at the drop in centres,” Kinlay Dorjee said. The thromde will then segregate and collect the waste from the drop in centres.