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Bhutan’s Waste Revolution: Interview with the global waste management expert Sebastian Frisch

In this exclusive interview, Sebastian Frisch sheds light on Bhutan’s unique environmental commitments, the vision to close the Memelakha dumpsite, and the crucial role of EcoNation in shaping a circular economy. Explore the upcoming workshops that signify a shift from planning to action, laying the groundwork for a holistic waste management transformation. Join us as we unravel the layers of Bhutan’s Waste Revolution, where global expertise meets local commitment for a greener and more sustainable future.

Bhutan’s forests capture an impressive 9.4 million tons of CO2, surpassing its greenhouse gas emissions. How does this unique environmental commitment play into the waste management challenges the country is facing?

Sebastian Frisch: The achievement of the Kingdom of Bhutan in terms of climate protection are remarkable. Bhutan is a global leader in this field. We yet need to close the gap in the field of waste management: the dumpsite of Memelakha generates methane gas and waste is mostly not handled sustainably in the country. The visionary leaders of Bhutan have already committed to extend their sustainability strategy to circular economy as well. We are honored to support here to implement a sustainable waste management system in Bhutan.

Source: Sebastian Frisch (2023)

In what ways has Bhutan’s environmental stewardship inspired you and set the stage for initiatives like EcoNation?

Sebastian: When I first visited the country, I was amazed by the pristine beauty of the nature of Bhutan. Bhutan is still almost untouched by human intervention. It is our duty to conserve this unique ecosystem. But, when I visited the dumpsite of Memelakha, I knew that we need to significantly improve the waste management in the country in order to avoid future pollution of rivers, lakes and forest. The beauty of the nature is at risk if we not act now and implement a circular economy in Bhutan.EcoNation will support us on this journey by tracking and monitoring waste collection and treatment.

Could you elaborate on BlackForest’s vision for a waste management system in Bhutan and how it aims to reduce waste and environmental harm?

Sebastian: Our vision is to close Memelakha. We think that the root-cause of the problem of waste management in the lack of finance. Hence, we will implement an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system in the country. An EPR system will lay the ground for finance, investment and waste management infrastructure development such as recycling and recovery facility in a larger scale. Furthermore, EPR will provide mandatory guidelines for waste reduction, packaging design and awareness amongst the citizen. In our vision for Bhutan all waste generated should be either recycled or recovered, only inert waste (such as ashes) should be landfilled. We aim for modern treatment facilities that are efficiently operated. We are particularly thankful to also get support from our partners of Landbell Group to support is to  implement an EPR system in country.

What role does the EcoNation project playing in that vision?

Sebastian: EcoNation will provide us with the required software components to track and monitor waste collection and treatment. EconNation has been a partner since more than 1 year in Bhutan, managing the weekly clean-up that we conduct with Mr Gembo and his team, in remote areas in the country. Gembo already collects waste out of the nature, he is a role model for anyone to achieve the goal of zero-waste in the nature of Bhutan. Our plan is a long-term cooperation with EcoNation.

EcoNation Monitoring Dashboard
Source: the fortunate planet (2022)

Considering your upcoming workshop in Bhutan, can you elaborate on the overarching goals of the upcoming workshops in Bhutan, and how do you envision these events contributing to the broader waste management transformation in the country?

Sebastian: After 2 years of preparation and various studies, we have now reached the stage where we get into action. This means we invest and we are establishing a company with the purpose to implement EPR. During the upcoming workshops we agree with the Department of Environment and Climate Change on concrete measures for the next years to implement a sustainable waste management system. We feel a great commitment and support from the government. We are convinced that the upcoming workshops will initiate an entire transformation of linear to circular economy in the Kingdom of Bhutan.

How do you plan to integrate and collaborate with local stakeholders, government bodies, and community members to ensure a holistic and sustainable waste management transformation?

Sebastian: Here we rely on our local partners from NKN. Without NKN this entire journey would not have been possible. We are truly thankful for this precious Bhutanese-German partnership. NKN will integrate all local stakeholders and our implemented will be in full consent with everyone who is involved.

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