Bhutan : A Remote Kingdom With Visions of a Zero Waste Society
These are unfamiliar times. With unprecedented volumes of plastic spewing out the doors of countless manufacturing facilities across the globe, and steadily increasing levels of toxicity in our air topping the highest point ever recorded in the entirety of human history. The Kingdom of Bhutan, though, is doing something unlike any other country in the world, and it’s working.
Twelve years ago, their government made a commitment to preserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem; a minimum of 60% of their total land shall be maintained under forest cover FOR ALL TIME.
Right now, Bhutan is covered by 71% pristine forest, over 800 million trees. Each forested conservation area connects with one another through a network of channels of vegetation. This way, animals are free to roam throughout the country safely; promoting biodiversity and wildlife populations.
What does all this mean? Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. They emit 2.2 million tons of CO2, and their forest sequesters more than 3 times that amount.
But that’s not the only thing they are doing.
Her majesty the Gyaltsuen of Bhutan declared every second day of every month ‘Zero Waste Hour’. Bhutan, although carbon negative, has struggled with waste management. With population growth, economic activities, proliferation of non-biodegradable goods, endless packaging and an increase in consumption, Bhutan was left like most of us today, with hefty pollution and little understanding of how to manage it.
“My waste, my responsibility”. This is the mantra that echoes throughout Bhutan as they aim to meet their vision of a zero waste society by 2030.
How are they turning it all around?
In 1999, Bhutan banned plastic bags. It was a big deal. However, the Environmental Commission has needed to reinforce the ban three times since then, because 20 years later and it is still a problem, despite the law put in place.
Placing a ban isn’t enough. These bans need to be enforced, alternatives need to be introduced, and widespread educational outreach needs to be a priority. Just one of these things alone is not sufficient for long term change. It is a combination of each of these crucial steps that is required for radical change.
Bhutan’s formula for success:
Bans : Any business selling or using plastic bags and wrappers is fined Nu 500 for their first offence, Nu 1000 for their second offence and subsequent violations results in the cancellation of their business license.
Alternatives: They introduced biodegradable jute bags as an alternative, and are working on other compostable alternatives to single-use!
Education: Awareness programmes are implemented to educate the public on the damaging impacts of plastic on the environment, and how to properly segregate recyclables from non-recyclables, and biodegradables from non-biodegradables.
Inidividual Responsibility: Finally, in hopes to build environmental and social responsibility among each citizen, they instated the ‘Zero Waste Hour’, observed during office hours, all offices, institutions, organizations and individuals are mandated to clean their surrounding areas.
Learning how to minimize our waste, reduce our consumption, clean our oceans… it is no simple task to change the world… Nonetheless, it is imperative that we try; and with everyone working together, even just for an hour (of zero waste), no mountainous pile of waste is too big.