Waste and Worldviews

Garbage and Pollution Challenges in Bhutan


  • Elizabeth Allison California Institute of Integral Studies




household waste, pollution, urbanization, sustainable development, political ecology, Bhutan, Tibetan Buddhism, worldviews, spiritual ecology


The global trend toward urbanization has led to increasing waste challenges, especially in developing countries. Although Bhutan is still one of the world’s least developed countries, its economy and capital city have grown rapidly during the past two decades, causing solid waste production to outstrip management capacity. The government instituted new waste management initiatives in 2007, but they gained little traction. Ethnographic research in communities across the country revealed competing paradigms about the identi?cation of waste, the disposition of waste, and household practices of waste management. Vajrayana Buddhism, the dominant religion throughout much of the country, profoundly shapes local beliefs and practices. Local environmental imaginaries and cultural concerns about ritual pollution have con?icted with technocratic management protocols, leading to confusion and incompletely implemented policies. Waste management policies may be more effective if they engage with the values and practices inherent in a lived religion that contributes to cultural understandings of waste.


Ahmed, Sara. 1990. ‘Cleaning the River Ganga: Rhetoric and Reality’, Ambio 19.1: 42-45.

Alley, Kelly D. 1994. ‘Ganga and Gandagi: Interpretations of Pollution and Waste in Benaras’, Ethnology 33.2: 127-45. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3773893.

Allison, Elizabeth. 2004. ‘Spiritually-Motivated Natural Resource Management in Eastern Bhutan’, in K. Ura and S. Kinga (ed.), The Spider and the Piglet: Proceedings of the First International Seminar on Bhutan Studies (Thimphu, Bhutan: Centre for Bhutan Studies): 529-63.

———. 2008a. ‘Becoming Environmental Citizens: Environmental Imaginaries, Household Waste Management, and Rural-Urban Linkages in Bhutan’. Paper presented at National Conference on Solid Waste Management, Thimphu, Bhutan.

———. 2008b. ‘The Dark Side of Light: Managing Non-biodegradable Wastes in Bhutan’s Rural Areas’, Mountain Research and Development 28.3-4: 205-209.

———. Forthcoming 2015. ‘Religion Inscribed in the Landscape: Sacred Sites, Local Deities, and Natural Resource Use in the Himalayas’, in S.D. Brunn (ed.), The Changing World Religion Map (New York: Springer).

Amery, Hussein A. 2001. ‘Islamic Water Management’, Water International 26.4: 481-89. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02508060108686949.

Ammerman, Nancy Tatom. 2007. Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195305418.001.0001.

Aris, Michael. 1994. The Raven Crown: The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan (London: Serindia Publications).

Avvannavar, Santosh M., and Monto Mani. 2008. ‘A Conceptual Model of People’s Approach to Sanitation’, Science of the Total Environment 390.1: 1-12. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2007.09.018.

BBS. 2012. ‘Rural–Urban Migration Impacts Radhi Gewog’, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, August 12. Online: http://www.bbs.bt/news/?p=16194.

———. 2013. ‘Bidung, the Hardest Hit Gewog by Rural–Urban Migration’, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, March 29. Online: http://www.bbs.bt/news/?p=25195.

Benvenisti, Eyal. 2008. ‘Asian Traditions and Contemporary International Law on the Management of Natural Resources’, Chinese Journal of International Law 7.2: 273-83. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/chinesejil/jmn008.

Berkes, Fikret. 2008. Sacred Ecology (New York: Routledge).

Berkes, Fikret, J. Colding, and C. Folke. 2000. ‘Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management’, Ecological Applications 10.5: 1251-62. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/1051-0761(2000)010[1251:ROTEKA]2.0.CO;2.

Berthelsen, John. 2013. ‘Booming Bhutan’, Foreign Affairs, January 30.

Blench, Roger. 2005. ‘Livestock Predation in Central Bhutan: The Impacts of Social and Economic Change’. Online: http://www.rogerblench.info/Anthropologydata/Text/Bhutan predators.pdf.

Bryant, Raymond L. 1998. ‘Power, Knowledge and Political Ecology in the Third World: A Review’, Progress in Physical Geography 22.1: 79-94. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/030913339802200104.

———. 2000. ‘Politicized Moral Geographies—Debating Biodiversity Conservation and Ancestral Domain in the Philippines’, Political Geography 19.6: 673-705. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0962-6298(00)00024-X.

Callicott, J. Baird. 1994. Earth’s Insights: A Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Chettri, Nakul, Eklabya Sharma, Bandana Shakya, and Birendra Bajracharya. 2007. ‘Developing Forest Conservation Corridors in the Kangchenjunga Lanscape, Eastern Himalaya’, Mountain Research and Development 27.3: 211-14. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1659/mrd.0923.

Choda, Jamyang. 2012. ‘Rural Out-Migration Scenario in Khaling Gewog, Trashigang, Eastern-Bhutan’, Journal of Agroforestry and Environment 6.2: 29-32.

Cobb, John B. 1972. Is It too Late? A Theology of Ecology (Beverly Hills, CA: Bruce).

Dahal, Rabi C. 2012. ‘Festival to Address Rural Waste’, Bhutan Observer, October 12. Online: http://www.sji.bt/assets/PDFs/Bhutan-Observer-05.10.2012.pdf.

Dema, Kesang 2005. ‘Bhutan’s Clean and Green Image at Stake’, Kuensel: Bhutan’s National Newspaper, June 9. Online: http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&



How to Cite

Allison, E. (2015). Waste and Worldviews: Garbage and Pollution Challenges in Bhutan. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 8(4), 405–428. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v8i4.25050