Over the 20 days we spent in Bhutan, in many of our varied lectures the issue of waste management and plastics came up as a question from CMC’s sustainability-minded students. We learned that with rapid development and modernization (out of the medieval age only about 60 years ago) come challenges and infrastructure issues that need to be solved. With plastics, specifically, Bhutan faces the same challenges we all do globally: What to do with the plastic waste?
Although they have not fully answered this question or solved the plastic waste problem in their country, I did notice some creative ways the Bhutanese are using their plastic waste. On one of our drives, I asked Dr. Mercedes Quesada-Embid to recall which country it was that she had introduced us to in class, that was utilizing plastic bottles filled with water to upcycle plastic bottles and provide light in homes (Liter of Light). She told us it was the Philippines. We discussed how a program like that may be a great way to utilize some of the plastics in Bhutan. Then I saw it! And snapped the picture below (through the window of our moving vehicle) – it was of a plastic bottle covering a light bulb alongside the road in some areas to light the road at night. Although distinct from the Philippines in its application, it made me realize that plastic upcycling was already being utilized in some ways here.
Later, at the Choki Traditional Arts School I saw more creative and inspiring plastic upcycling. Here, the artists turned plastics into indoor planters, and artistically transformed old tires into beautiful outdoor planters too.
Even in Paro, on our hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, we saw how the Bhutanese upcycled plastics into their deeply spiritual and traditional culture by turning plastics into prayer wheels.
Keeping Bhutan free of plastic waste seems to be an important value for the Bhutanese. Ultimately, it takes each individual person’s cooperation and respect to make it happen.