Business Bhutan - - Opinion - Choki Wangmo Choki Wangmo is a grad­u­ate of Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment from the Col­lege of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

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.

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