I am excited about the prime minister’s assurances that Thimphu will be one of the cleanest cities in the world by 2011. But I am not excited about how he plans to do it.

It appears that the government has decided to buy a waste incinerator capable of burning 40 tonnes of waste at a time. It should reconsider its decision.

Incinerators must burn continuously. So they require a constant supply of garbage. And the bigger the incinerator, the larger will be the amount of garbage needed to keep it running. As a result, we may need to produce more, not less garbage. This is not good waste management.

Incinerators pollute. The pollution will spread throughout our country and to our neighboring countries. Plus the smoke, gas and ash produced by incinerators contain dioxins that can cause cancer. This is not responsible.

Incinerators are expensive. In 2004, THPA paid Nu 4 million for a 2.4 tonne incinerator. Guess how much a 40 tonne incinerator would cost? Upwards of Nu 600 million! This, it seems, is what representatives of a Malaysian firm told the government when they visited Bhutan earlier this year to market their product. This is not cheap.

A much more simple, responsible and cheaper solution to our waste problem is to recycle it.

A businessman has already proposed to establish a recycling plant. This is his plan: he collects waste that has been sorted, washes and compresses it, and sells it as raw material to companies – in Bhutan or abroad – who manufacture products from recycled material.

Who sorts the garbage? That’s the catch – we, the producers of garbage do. Waste must be sorted at the source before it can be used by the recycler. But the good news is that Thimphu’s residents are willing to do so. At least, this was the experience in the mid-1990’s when NEC briefly tried a recycling project. Sorting our own waste teaches us to reduce consumption, reuse packaging and recycle – the all important 3R’s of waste management. Sorting our waste also teaches us to respect the environment. That’s GNH.

And there’s more good news: most of our garbage is recyclable, at least 70% of it is. That would mean that only 30% of our waste would need to go into landfills. And that would mean smaller, safer, cheaper and better-managed landfills would do for Thimphu.

How much would a recycling plant cost? About Nu 3 million. The government should finance the plant (donors are already willing) and subsidize its operating costs for the 10 years it would take before he can start turning a profit. In case you’re wondering, there’s a lot of money to be made from the sale of used plastics, glass, PET bottles and metals. Many companies use recyclable waste as raw material to produce finished goods. So the recycling plant would basically compact the waste so that it becomes easier and cheaper to transport.

It all seems so simple, doesn’t it? It is.

Yes, let’s make Thimphu the cleanest city in the world by 2011. But let’s do it responsibly.

(photo of incinerator from


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  1. I totally agree and would like to add some further food for thought
    Any ash that results from incineration still requires disposal..incomplete combustion results in dioxins and carbon monoxide contributing to global warming (which if we pretend we aren’t affected will come right home when then next GLOF happens). the landfill at memelakha already has a serious problem of leachate and it seems so little information is available about the design and management of other thromde landfills who knows how much underground water is being polluted to return as unidentifiable illness in the population.
    Lets support DoA in reinvigorating the composting plant and making it functional before spending more millions on equipments that do not solve our problems.
    Let’s encourage small private business who are interested in recycling e-waste and other waste, as the global economic downturn has already made an outside market for our waste unviable.

  2. Bhutanese Blogger says

    It would help to remember the incinerator that was installed at the Thimphu cremation ground..

  3. Well…for me the option of recyling sounds so much simpler and sustainable than the incinerator. But i am shocked as to why our policy makers, concerned authorities and experts did not opt for this viable solution in the first place?

  4. Collecting all the garbage and burning it all in an incinerator is a bad call. If only policy makers understood the technical details and implications of such an infrastructure, we would never have to see such a move being made by them. In developed countries which uses incinerators, the waste is generated in huge quantity and segregated at source. Memelakha has definitely raised enough awareness amongst the citizens but not enough to make the people do something about it themselves.
    We are the waste generators so we have to act responsibly if we love our city, country and our environment!

  5. I think making Thimphu the cleanest city by 2011 is very much possible. In fact i think making Bhutan the cleanest county is also very possible. I think an initiative like that should not only start in the capital but also in rest of the Dzongkhags.
    I am totally against PM’s plan to bring in an incinerator. What is he thinking? I mean he is suppose to be the smartest man in our country right now and if he starts thinking everything for short-term, we have had it. I hope the government decides not to go ahead with this plan of buying the incinerator,its crazy.
    I support the idea of re-cyclying.

  6. “Cleanest capital in the world,” indeed! Now here’s a cause we can all support, but only if we use the right approach. Bringing in a giant incinerator will further remove garbage producers away from the stinking problem of waste overflow. People will continue to think that their waste disappears into a big black hole somewhere, and continue to be irresponsible for the waste they generate. After ten years are we going to get a bigger incinerator?

    When we claim to be champions of GNH, why can we not take on the challenge of recycling (instead of dismissing it as not doable right away), and more importantly reducing waste overall. Certainly this calls for a major change in attitude. And EDUCATION.

    We are a country of under a million people, we can get this right. It needs a comprehensive approach – the government and NGOs could strengthen the education and awareness part while subsidies could be given to the private sector to make waste management profitable. But we need to do all this with gusto. A workshop here, a study tour there is not going to work. Enough “officials” have done this. We need action, we need solutions. Now is when we need them to translate what they have learned on all those foreign junkets into action.

    We should seriously think about generating less waste. We are proud to use non-materialistic Buddhism to define ourselves conveniently, but our actions show we are losing ourselves to material consumption.

    C’mon, champions of GNH – we need leaders who can lead by example!

  7. a very interesting topic…i really enjoyed reading it and i am so glad that there are so many people concerned over waste management.

    i too believe that incinerators are not the best solution to the waste problems. yes they do remove waste but all along pollute the air. i think the best thing would be to encourage recycling (as all of the comments above ve suggested). i think the government should encourage everyone to have a recycling box at home (the pictures from the memelhakha landfill shows mainly recyclable waste) . people dont need to spend extra time sorting out their waste if they directly dispose them into the right boxes and i also think it would be great if the city corporation can take non-recyclable and recyclable waste separately.although there are some people who recycle, i think its high time everyone realizes the plus points and start recycling.
    and kudos tot eh opposition leader for bringing up such a good topic

  8. An incenerator to fry up all forms of wastes sounds a bit gaudy, but at the rate we Bhutanese are dirtying up our beloved land it looks like we will need a good number of these machines. Recyling isn’t a pretty bad idea.
    But, Mr. Tshering, correct me if I ‘m wrong because I do not at all support the outright ban of plastic bags. I am sure you will agree that this is the best form of a medium where we can stack in the home-wastes. But what the government has to think of is, how do we tackle the plastic wastes? Right now the government remains complacent because in their eyes they have banned the plastic bags and hence no further worries about it/them have to be endured. However, it’s plastic everywhere!!!So answer me three questions Mr. Tshering, strictly just your opinion;
    1. Plastic ban in Bhutan is logical?
    2. If Incenerators were cheaper, would you go for that?
    3. Why are other cities cleaner than Bhutan, especially when we can boast of nothing worthwhile to produce to result into equivalent amount of wastes?
    I didn’t vote for you, but I look at you with respect because you are someone I would love to vote for in the future. Happy New Year 2009.

  9. On plastice waste ban…

    What i have notice till now is the ban on plastic bag and not actaullly on the ban of use of plastic.. so my first step it to see if we can really ban the use of plastic,(and it was not possible and it will not for sure) if not that can we use biodegradable plastics instead of other. although, it may be expansive but i think we can have subsidies on the use and sales of bioplastics and more taxes on the other plastics. that would mean the price of both would be almost the same. this will solve our costing problem.

    But before these thing… has any one done any study on the amount of plastic waste being produced in area specific so that in case we think of reusing the plasctic than these are imp.. figs..

  10. i think a *think tank* be formed to tackle this waste problem. I would not yet go for infractures. although we have lot of waste in mamalakha and lot more coming…… NOT yet with the infracture. Buying of machines and putting here and there has been a sad story always… ex.
    look at the waste collected below express,, thimphu… I donot know when that project was started weather it is still running or any updates… may be we can learn some from that story.. who will tell those stories to the public. may be if that project was on loan.. than by now our debth might have been cleared to world bank or adb.but have we recovered our investments..I think those stories of the past trail need to be looked into by the policy maker and not hunt for fund to start new ones….. we always try to look for short term problem solving and not look at ther long term goal.
    Now the gov want to buy the incinerators.. may be the problem have be studies at the grond and look how we can solve the problem.
    I think if we have money, we can buy thoes hard ware anytime… so my idea is first educate the public, have campaign on how to tackle and not just cleaning campagn and dump the waste like we do every day.. make people aware of the facts of the waste and how to reduce it. and lot more, 3r concept.
    *well now the waste act is there, and our environmental officers in the town can fine her and there adn stop the waste production and make city cleen.It is easy to fine people and it is easy to pay by the people. and old saying “when one door closes other opens.” if we donot educate our people and just fine them left and right.. they will have another door open… our people are smart.
    So my choise for atleast a year or more… we have to bare witht he production of waste but need to put things in place
    1. not to go with the hard ware now.
    2. first educate law makers, publics and think tankers etc…
    3. put in place the ways of making the 3r
    and than go with the hard ware..
    my estimate it will take 3 years to set up system and when it is there just buy the hard ware……

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