Rethinking plastic use
A group of enthusiastic environmentalists conduct an environmental education and advocate on reducing wastes. The crowd turns up for the session with an uplifted demeanor of a serious conservationist. Program begins in grandeur as every person is made to feel that they have a responsibility in taking care of “Our Mother Earth.” Most of them make pledges to reduce plastic wastes at personal and societal level. In the middle of the session, as a token of appreciation for the audience, the organizers bring in cartons after cartons of bottled water and other refreshments in the hall. They unpack and generously distribute the content to the participants. Some might not even notice that they have already started going back to their pledges, whereas those who observe will pretend not to notice for everyone is silent on what they are creating. So, the story goes the same in almost all workshops, meetings, advocacy programs, and even cleaning campaigns at local, national, and international levels.
UNDP report projected that by 2030, Thimphu will produce 131 tonnes-wastes per day which will bring challenges to Thimphu Thromde in carrying out sustainable waste management activities. Bottled water has become anemerging fashion in Bhutan. Given due advantage for its convenience, and availability, everyone gobbles down the water without caring for the bottle which can be used only once. Huge amount of plastic wastes is generated in the process, and the vicious cycle of cleaning campaign begins. The concept is actually funny that in one of world’s water rich countries, Bhutan package and sell something that is already freely available. Globally, the consumption of bottled water is increasing 10 percent annually, with fastest growth recorded in developing countries of Asia. Huge costs are incurred in producing bottled water that1 kg of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a product used in making plastic water bottles, uses 17.5 kg of water. Moreover, Pacific Institute had calculated that in order to produce 1L of bottled water, 3L of regular water required.
Environmental impacts of bottled water
In order to produce a PET bottle, large amounts of fossil fuels are consumed as they are made from petroleum products. The European Commission had rightly stated that the manufacturing of PET bottled deplete the groundwater reserves and reduce the flow of streams and lakes, causing stress on ecosystemswater wastage, pollution, and climate change. 250 grams of green house gases are released per bottle, and also requires more energy in terms of production and distribution. What is even more startling is that 88 percent of bottles don’t get recycled but end up in landfills, whereby the harmful chemicals in the bottles can be absorbed by ground water, and also affect the plants and animals. On top of that, the bottled water contains contaminants from the treatment plant which is harmful for human health. As they are designed to be stored for longer periods of time, higher concentrations of antimony are leached which is dangerous upon consumption.
What can we do as individuals?
At a local and international level, we constantly hear segregation of wastes at sources, practicing 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) sounds more like a cliché. We have solution only when the problem had already developed beyond control. For instance, recently Thimphu Thromde’s proposed for 20 more garbage trucks for waste collection. It indicates that we fail to catch and dismantle the cause of the problem. Only if the bottled water processing plants and imports were reduced, Bhutanese will adopt a different habit like carrying a water bottle. However, it would require that water filters are in place, so that free water is readily available for anyone. This brings another tantamount challenge concerning peoples’ attitude. While in College, I took an initiative to raise fund to purchase filters in the college campus so that consumption of bottled water would be drastically reduced and we won’t waste our time in cleaning campaigns. Initially, I was met with mockery from my mates because they believed it was impossible and the task will never see light of the day. Finally, it was achieved with support from the college management. This shows that when we come together to work for the common cause, we can achieve the favorable solution to the most arduous problems. More than trying to change the course of an issue, it is deemed helpful if we try to change the mindset and behaviors of the common. Carrying reusable water bottle with lower life cycle costs than the single use disposable containers.
Choki Wangmo is a graduate of Sustainable Development from the College of Natural Resources.