The initiative to ban plastic in 1999 grabbed international headlines and garnered global attention and appreciation. But the initiative was only to be the tip of the iceberg. In the 13 years that followed, the ban had to be reintroduced in 2005 and a new regulation had to be worked out in 2012. And still today, the plastic ban, to its true sense, is yet to find a foothold in Bhutan.
The former Director General of the then Ministry of Trade and Industry, Achyut Bhandari, said what lacked at that time (1999) was proper follow up due to resource constraint because monitoring and ensuring compliance was difficult. “We did not have a proper legislation to back our rules and regulations.” He said it was the cabinet’s decision and thus not possible for people who were following-up in the Ministry of Trade and Industry to complain against somebody illegally.
Achyut Bhandari said the most important issue back then was the general awareness among the people in Bhutan. “You can see if it is not very good now, imagine 10-15 years back.”
The ban was again reinforced in 2005. The lack of proper alternatives to plastic bags was one of the main reasons. Plastics in the form of pre-packed plastic goods, continued to flood the markets.
There were some alternatives, such as using cloth bags and other biodegradable plastic bags, put in place. The ‘Clean Bhutan Initiative’ under the Royal Society for Protection of Nature, with support from various ministries and agencies, was formed to address the issue of solid waste management particularly plastic.
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But even after the reinforcement in 2005, solid waste including plastic, continued to remain a growing concern, especially in urban centers like Thimphu.
Thimphu alone produces about 60 tons of waste a day and it is growing.
Then came Waste Prevention and Management Regulation in April 2012 after thorough consultation with various implementing agencies.
In an earlier interview with BBS, the Secretary of National Environment Commission, Dr. Ugyen Tshewang, said implementing agencies were not carrying out their roles and responsibilities effectively.
The Thimphu Thromde, one of the implementing agencies and also the one that handles maximum workload of waste, says despite difficulty and challenges the office is doing its best to address the waste issue. “It takes some time to change the attitude of people. I don’t think we can do this within a year or two. But I am sure over next couple of years we can do it,” said the Thimphu Thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee. He said they are still serious about the ban and are imposing penalties.