The small urban capital of Bhutan, Thimphu, is on the rise.
The population continues to rise as year after year, young Bhutanese living in rural parts of the country flock to the capital city in search of jobs. Thimphu is also experiencing a growth in diverse infrastructure development, expansion of residential communities, and burgeoning of a busy and crowded city center. One of the most serious consequence of this rapid transformation has been the increase of solid waste generated by the 100,000 people living and working in Thimphu.
Many agencies in Bhutan are working to address waste-related issues, especially on creating awareness on waste management. The Thimphu Municipality established a waste segregation facility on September this year to promote waste segregation. The increasing waste problem has also resulted in jobs in waste management. Two women who live in two different parts of Thimphu are working directly with waste to earn a living, raise a family, and build a clean and waste-free society.
Kalawati, 32, works as a waste segregator for the Thimphu Municipality’s waste segregation facility. Every day, she sorts through chaotic piles of rubbish collected from Thimphu residents. She does not earn a salary but is compensated for her work with the provision of a small one-bedroom house that she lives in with her husband and 6 young children. She and her husband, a garbage collection truck driver employed by the Municipality, earn a moderate income from selling scraps from the segregation. This is their main source of livelihood - without it there would be “no food on the table”.
“The work itself isn’t very difficult, we get to keep a lot of items that are in good condition such as clothes and household items, and we’re also allowed to sell scraps to make some money”, she says. “However, my job would be a little easier if the waste has already been segregated at homes because right now, we spend a lot of time sorting through it when people are actually supposed to have already segregate it at home. We also end up dumping a substantial amount of waste in the landfill because we simply cannot extract enough reusable waste”.
The Municipality has recently provided waste segregators like Kalawati a training on composting. Soon she will be able to sell the manure and make additional income.
Karma, 43, is a wife of a Warrant Officer in the Royal Bhutan Army. She lives with her husband and 3 daughters in a residential community for armed forces and their families. Karma heads an association of 150 wives of armed forces. This association advocates for better waste management practices in their community. Currently, over 30 women in the association make and sell products such as bags, baskets, and accessories made from plastic waste. The women were trained by Tarayana Foundation, a public benefit organization that works to bring holistic community growth in needy communities. 9 other women have also been recently trained on how to make manure from organic waste by the Thimphu Municipality.
When Karma first moved into the residential community 21 years ago, the community was known as being one of the most polluted areas in Thimphu.
“After we started our association, we started collecting plastic bottles from households to sell to scrap dealers. Money from the sales are added to a death and damages compensation fund for our community. This was the first move that led our community to become more waste-conscious”, she says. Today, residents clean the community surroundings twice a week, segregate their waste, continue to collect plastic bottles from all the homes to sell to scrap-dealers, and recycle.
Karma is proud to live in a clean and environmentally-conscious community. She has also become very passionate about advocating proper waste management and believes that education and awareness programs targeted towards the youth, whom she believes litter the most, are critical to reducing waste and encouraging people to become more environmentally-friendly.
For the full story of Voices of Women Working in Waste in Bhutan, please click here.
Since 2016, IETC has been working on a waste and climate change project to reduce the impacts of the waste sector on the climate change, through capacity strengthening and policy support at the national and local level in Bhutan, Mongolia and Nepal. We completed baseline studies on waste and climate change at national and city levels, and baseline studies on gender and waste assessment for each country in corporation with national partners and Global Resource Information Database Arendal.
In Bhutan, IETC works closely with National Environment Commission of Bhutan and World Wildlife Fund, Inc. Bhutan Program. This story is a part of IETC's Gender and Waste Assessment, which will be published by March 2019. We aim to gather similar compelling stories from Mongolia and Nepal.
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Ms. Claudia Giacovelli