Thimphu’s shame

I went on a field trip today. To the Memelakha landfill. That’s where our garbage ends up everyday.

The landfill was built in 1992 and was designed to last for 10 years. But the actual landfill lasted only for 6 years. Since then the area has been used as a dumping ground. It continues to be used as such.

The landfill should have been lined with layers of concrete, plastic and concrete to prevent leakage. It wasn’t. So potentially toxic liquid seeps out of the walls and flows into a stream, which ends up in our river.

As soon as the landfill reached its capacity, it should have been sealed with several layers of concrete and plastic. It wasn’t. Instead, during the last 10 years since the landfill reached its capacity, even more garbage has been dumped on the landfill. The area has now turned into such a big dumping ground that it’s difficult to spot the original landfill.

Pipes should have been inserted into the landfill to release methane that rotting garbage generates. They weren’t. So the landfill is potentially explosive.

I was ashamed by what I saw. We produce a lot of garbage, some 40 tonnes everyday. But most of it is actually recyclable – plastics, paper and PET bottles. The problem is we don’t recycle. That’s the shame. And the garbage keeps piling.

The wall marked the designed capacity of the original landfill. What’s above the wall is what is now a dumping ground.

Garbage overflowing everywhere

Dogs reign supreme here

More dogs

Potentially toxic liquid seeping out

This must be deadly

Almost all of this is recyclable

Easy pickings

If only this had been recycled

Too little is recycled


Facebook Comments:


  1. Thank you for raising this important issue. I’ve always been so much concern with the issue of solid waste management in our country. The thing is we need solution, not just any short-term but something that really works. I think our new government needs to prioritize on this issue rather than building bridges or roads.
    I remember that the MoWHS did a survey on the amount/type of waste generated by each dzongkhag on a daily basis (in 2007) and I think the presentation was made to our PM who obviously showed his concern on the issue. I’ve no idea about the status now but I think the Department of Urban Development was/is working on it.
    I think it’s high time we do something about this. The thing is that the issue has reach to a scale where I as an individual can really do nothing on my own though I want to.
    Here in Holland, collection of garbage is outsourced to the private firms and they make a really good profit out of it since they re-cycle most of the waste. I think something like this can be adopted in Bhutan as well.

  2. It is a shame to see our waste go to waste. Where is the sense of recycle, reduce and reuse. I know in my village people use the 3Rs very effectively, but it is the urbanites where all the educated lots reside and they take it for granted that the waste will be taken care by someone.

    You have brought this issue well in time when the waste bill has been enacted by the 1st parliament. I hope the concerned authorities will start to wake up. I hope they will not select another site where we can dump our waste again.

    Lets not waste our time to solve our own wastes.

  3. Tshering Tobgay says

    tchoden, many thanks for your observations. what is done in holland is possible here…hence my next post. enjoy!

  4. I applaud you opposition leader for bringing out this pertinent issue. I am so saddened to see our wastes being managed so badly…and i as an individual and a waste producer also take responsibility but i need help and want to help. I need help as in awareness and education of how i can manage my wastes and want to help as in how i can influence others in managing their wastes. I can start with my family first then friends and relatives and so on…to begin with, could the concerned authorities help in simple ways rather than making waste management so complicated and difficult for common people. we educated lot must take the initiative and set the trend and culture to be responsible for the future generation to follow. All big endeavours are undertaken by a single step and let us all take that step.

  5. Dear opposition leader,

    I totally and absolutely agree with you on the issue of waste management. I think bringing in expensive technology like waste incinerator is not a solution to Thimphu’s waste. There are many inexpensive methods like you have rightly pointed out, the concept of 3Rs…
    If we at all bring in the incinerator, we are only heading for technology which will not be functional in another few years because of its high operation and maintenance cost.
    So dear Sir, please stand by your opinion.

  6. I also took a family trip to Tango Chari area. I wonder if any parliamentarians have been aroud there lately. I was there to picnic with my family but alas that I couldn’t find a decent place without garbage to lay down and feast on our pack lunch. And guess what – that is also a tourists spot for people visit the two famous monasteries and also the finishing point of the Chomolhari-Dodena trek. What a shame. Simply try to cross the cantilevered bridge and look either left or right, one will notice pet bottles, plastics, rags etc. I think all MP’s should make a trip there to clean up this Sunday. We will join too.

    Also not very far and in the midst of Thimphu is the Chang Jiji housing complex area. The river front is ghastly – totally unacceptable (note city corporation). I know friends who live there dump their waste at the banks of the river after dark. NEC or City corp should wait along the banks after dark and you will see the culprits in action hurling the trash (sad but true).

    I commend Lyonpo Zimba speaking very tactfully and assuringly at the assembly hall – BUT now we would like to request him to take a walking tour of these sites filled with trash and ear mark it for cleaning. The river is at its lowest right now and everything is revealed. IT IS A SHAME BUT MORE THAN SHAME – IT IS DANGEROUS. HELP HELP HELP HELP………

  7. I am glad that the issue has been raised and you have high lighted the garbage problem, it is nice to hear retorics of having the cleanist city by 2011, do I hear another politician ranting? I hope not and it is a sincer aspiration.
    many solutions were presented but due to the bhutanese attitude of I know it all the white man said so! , small inovative ideas were shot down.
    now we live with garbge overflowing and dogs keeping guard.

  8. The last I heard was that incerinator has been stopped for the very reason that it hoggs too much garbage and we are unable to feed so. I also heard MP’s of NA had just discussed garbo. What was the decision? To buy and install incirinator? That is as deadly as your pictures of memelakha. The future looks bleak. We should think twice, 100times before creating garbage. We can start by not drinking Lichi juice and likes which create many plastic bottles waste. Also try not to buy biscuits etc. which have many wrappers. MP’s should never serve cold drinks as refreshment that create garbo. Serve them tea and no disposable plastic cups.

  9. It is indeed very nice that one of our promising leader have formed a ‘much read’blog.
    As a true citizen of Bhutan i would say that the shame of the country is not the memelakha landfill but the irresponsible citizens of Bhutan. It is BECAUSE OF the selfish and egoistic nature of the Bhutanese that we are witnessing such a shameful state.Nevertheless i feel that it is not late and the the solid waste management act has come into force at the right time.
    Out of the best solutions i.e the the three Rs ,reduce and reuse could be ensured at the sourse by the people ourselves.However the govt need to establish a suitable recycling plant for recycling the wastes that could be recycled. The organic wastes could be converted into a compost.

  10. Thinley Penjore, Kenya says

    Since the topic under discussion is so important especially if we want to realise the goal of clean city by 2011 which I remember was the slogan of Lyonpo Zimba in one of his presentation in the NA, then much needed to be done then merely having the Acts and Rules & Regulations. Rules & Regulations have never proved to be a success and sustainable in any country how good they may be. What is more important is creating awareness and lots of awareness. City corporation should instead focus on educating the people on proper waste management through creation of voluntary groups and other interest groups at various levels (business people, government & corporate employees, at community level, etc.). Intensive use of media for community awareness on handling the waste should be taken up by Thimphu City Corporation at least for 6 to 12 months before implementing such rules OR else if TCC is really in hurry to implement the rules then it should be done concurrently with the community awareness programme on waste management.

    The other thing which I would like to add is, it is really high time that waste management be outsourced to private in a phased manner and the TCC concentrate more on the facilitating and enabling roles than the implementation role.

    The problem of waste management has been universal and I have seen almost every country (particularly the developing countries) struggling over how to manage the waste. Compared to few countries where I have worked (Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Somalia, Kenya, Nepal), Bhutan is still far better and we are not late to institute better system and better ways of managing our waste. There are lots of good examples and best practices which our government should look into replicating in our country. This issue of waste and how best it can be tackled is one strong indicator to measure the performance of the present government. I wish all the best.

  11. The discussion took place above is very much related to my thesis that I am writing at this time. I can also compare the attitude of Bhutanes people and the behavior of the people here in Holland. Through my observation after a year being here in Holland, I believ that the most importing strategy for Municipal solid waste managemnt is Public’s awareness on MSWM ans gearing their minds towards it. Public being the main culprit of waste generator, their helping hand in waste prevention is immensely crucial. We bhutanese are not yet late to realize and intervene in a better way. Lets not throw balls at each other, we are the creater and are responsible for clearing as well. Lets join our hands to raise awareness on waste prevention and recycling as many of you have mentioned above that no individual can make a difference. Lets stand together! Such that MPs, NEC and TCC alone cannot make a difference in fact. Their job is to guide us and we citizens are to act accordingly. They have done their best and now its our duty to act and make a difference. I am grateful to what our government has done so far but I regret on behalf of the public as we failed to follow the boatman. I hope my theisis on creating awareness on MSWM will help thousands head to realize one’s deed.

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