TACOMA, Washington — In 2020, Bhutan was “the only carbon-negative country in the world.” This means it was removing more greenhouse gases from its atmosphere than it was emitting. However, Bhutan’s devotion to environmental health did not end there. On June 2, 2019, Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen launched the “Zero Waste Hour” project in order to have a “Zero Waste Society by 2030.” This initiative shows how Bhutan continues to be a leading example of an eco-friendly country.
How Zero Waste Hour Works
Bhutan has reserved the second day of each month for its Zero Waste Hour. During this hour, everyone around the country, whether they be at school or work, must clean their surrounding environment. Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen developed the National Environment Commission’s (NEC) “My waste, my responsibility” campaign. This initiative is a part of the Zero Waste Hour and is meant to motivate citizens to participate in small eco-friendly acts to take care of their environment.
Zero Waste Hour is also mandated. Besides the NEC, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs will work with different districts of the country and many groups such as non-profit organizations, U.N. agencies and media houses. Each area will submit an annual report to make sure the Zero Waste Hour has effective participation and results.
Bhutan’s Eco-Friendly Focus
Although the country’s small population allows for lower carbon emissions, that is not the only reason for Bhutan’s low emissions. In one article of its constitution, Bhutan states that a minimum of 60% of its land must remain under forest cover. This goal has clearly paid off since it is one of few carbon-negative countries in the world.
Article Five of its constitution focuses on the environment. In fact, one section of this article actually puts the responsibility of environmental health on each citizen. This emphasis on accountability is prominent in the Zero Waste Hour initiative since it is up to the citizens to do something as simple as clean their surroundings for an hour every month.
Bhutan also has a unique approach to its policies that specifically focus on the well-being of its citizens. Whereas most countries use Gross Domestic Product to measure their success, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck developed the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the 1970s. GNH has four pillars, including environmental conservation and nine domains, including the environment. This measure of success heavily focuses on the role the environment can play in the well-being of a country. It effectively makes environmental health a priority in Bhutan.
Other Zero Waste Initiatives
Zero Waste Hour isn’t the only program in Bhutan to accomplish zero waste by 2030. The Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative is part of the Bhutan Foundation with multiple zero waste strategies. There are zero waste communities used as models in different villages and towns. This nonprofit has also created different training techniques to encourage zero waste. It has even gone as far as creating training sessions for citizens. Overall, the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative focuses on how the community can participate in zero waste.
Sustainable Development Goals, Zero Waste and Poverty
Bhutan’s loyalty to zero waste is in compliance with many of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, four SDGs, including SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG 15 (Life on Land) all focus on the role waste management can have on the environment.
Environmental health goes hand in hand with global poverty. People who live in environments with poor sanitation are at risk for different diseases. This makes them more likely to fall into the cycle of poverty unless something is done about waste management. Bhutan’s Zero Waste Hour initiative is one example of how the country is continuing to maintain environmental health for its citizens.
– Mia Banuelos