When Cul­tural Val­ues Im­pact En­vi­ron­men­tal Be­hav­iours

Re­search shows that for con­cerns on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues to trans­late to the adop­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly be­hav­iours, cul­tural val­ues in a coun­try plays a de­ter­min­ing role

Asian Geographic - - CONTENTS - Text Ra­jeswari Viki­ra­man and Rachel Kwek


Bhutan takes great pride in its rich cul­ture and iden­tity, which it has man­aged to pre­serve while mak­ing un­prece­dented progress in work­ing its way out of poverty. Com­mit­ted to its stand that eco­nomic progress should not take prece­dence over the na­tion’s unique cul­ture and pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment, Bhutan takes a holis­tic ap­proach to de­vel­op­ment by bal­anc­ing eco­nomic growth with so­cial de­vel­op­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and cul­tural preser­va­tion.

The land­locked Hi­malayan king­dom’s model of gov­er­nance em­pha­sises what it terms “Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness”. Ac­cord­ing to this ap­proach, de­vel­op­ment should im­prove the hap­pi­ness and well-be­ing of its peo­ple and keep its nat­u­ral land­scapes and re­sources in­tact. It is this very qual­ity that has played

a piv­otal role in lead­ing the coun­try to achieve its cur­rent car­bon-neg­a­tive sta­tus – a re­mark­able dis­tinc­tion at­tained by only one coun­try in the world.

Re­strict­ing tourist num­bers by charg­ing a daily fee, in­vest­ing in elec­tric ve­hi­cles, and ex­port­ing en­ergy from hy­dropower projects have largely con­trib­uted to its car­bon neg­a­tive sta­tus. Bhutan has also opted out of eco­nom­i­cally vi­able projects threat­en­ing their com­mit­ment to up­hold the con­sti­tu­tion that de­mands at least 60 per­cent of the coun­try’s nat­u­ral for­est cover re­mains.

Al­though it is a small coun­try, Bhutan has demon­strated how much can be achieved when peo­ple are grounded by a strong cul­ture that pro­motes the idea that progress can be en­joyed but not at the ex­pense of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

“Res­i­dents sort their trash into raw food waste, cooked food waste, re­cy­clables like plas­tic and pa­per and gen­eral waste, and then bring them down to iconic yel­low garbage trucks that pa­trol the streets sev­eral times a week along with re­cy­cling trucks”


Be­sides the three R’s of waste min­imi­sa­tion, the Ja­panese are fa­mil­iar with a fourth: re­spect or mot­tainai. Mot­tainai is a Ja­panese term that means “what a waste” or “don’t be waste­ful”. Prac­tised in the Ja­panese cul­ture for cen­turies, it ex­presses the feel­ing of re­gret one ex­pe­ri­ences when re­sources are be­ing wasted and not used to their fullest po­ten­tial – what the Ja­panese view as show­ing dis­re­spect. Rooted in Bud­dhist phi­los­o­phy, the con­cept that pro­motes a way of life that shows re­spect for re­sources cre­ates in peo­ple an aware­ness of the need to live sus­tain­ably for the en­vi­ron­ment they are a part of.

Al­though it has been ar­gued that the cul­ture has been on the de­cline in Ja­pan with glob­al­i­sa­tion and a pop­u­la­tion that is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing con­sumerist, there are com­mu­ni­ties that con­tinue to prac­tise it, like the small town in the coun­try’s south­west called Kamikatsu, which aims to be­come zero-waste by 2020. This ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our lim­ited re­sources is an at­ti­tude the global pop­u­la­tion needs to adopt to ad­dress the is­sues the world faces to­day.


Al­though Tai­wan thrived from the in­dus­trial boom, it was known as the "garbage is­land" as it strug­gled with its waste man­age­ment. Vast amounts of trash were pol­lut­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and re­cy­cling rates were as low as 5 per­cent.

To­day, the sit­u­a­tion has changed dras­ti­cally and the coun­try’s re­cy­cling rate is as high as 55 per­cent. This is largely at­trib­uted to its unique waste dis­posal and col­lec­tion sys­tem, which cul­ti­vates re­spon­si­ble con­sump­tion and dis­posal among its cit­i­zens. Res­i­dents sort their trash into raw food waste, cooked food waste, re­cy­clables like plas­tic and pa­per and gen­eral waste, and then bring them down to iconic yel­low garbage trucks that pa­trol the streets sev­eral times a week along with re­cy­cling trucks. In ad­di­tion to the loud clas­si­cal mu­sic blast­ing from these ve­hi­cles, there are even mo­bile apps that alert users when they are nearby.

Pun­ish­ment and in­cen­tives are also built into this sys­tem. It is com­pul­sory to pur­chase spe­cial blue bags to dis­pose of non-re­cy­clable waste and those who con­tra­vene this code of con­duct will be warned, fined or even pub­licly shamed. In Taipei, mon­e­tary value is added to one’s mass tran­sit card when you use the smart re­cy­cling booths to re­cy­cle bot­tles or cans. The city’s EcoARK Pav­il­lion built from 1.5 mil­lion plas­tic bot­tles is yet an­other tes­ta­ment to how waste is put to good use here.

Tai­wan has suc­cess­fully in­volved its peo­ple in man­ag­ing its waste and its achieve­ments can fea­si­bly be repli­cated around the world.


TOP Tai­wan’s yel­low garbage trucks col­lect trash sorted by its res­i­dents OP­PO­SITE PAGE TOP Every house­hold in Ja­pan is re­quired to seper­ate trash for re­cy­cling and dis­posal OP­PO­SITE PAGE BOT­TOm An im­pro­vised rub­bish bin in Thim­phu, Bhutan


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