Why are millennials and teenagers now picking up trash

Over 2,100 volunteers collected 3,997 sacks of trashes in the mega #trashtag challenge in Bhutan from 12 different dzongkhags 

The #TrashTag Challenge is currently going viral among the Bhutanese teenagers and millennials on social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

The #trashtag challenge requires people to pick a place full of trash, clean up the place, take before-and-after pictures of the place and post them on social media.

Of late, most of our youths seem to have been hooked on it. Interviewing few of them online and in person, we found that they wholeheartedly took up the #trashtag challenge. Most of them said that this movement seems to have more positive impact on individuals and environment as compared to any other dumb challenges on social media.

After noticing few young social media users in Bhutan taking up this challenge, a group of three planned to initiate a two-day mega trash challenge nationwide in Bhutan last weekend, involving at least 1,000 volunteers. The group opened a Facebook page named, Mission Trash Bhutan 2019.

On Saturday morning, as various coordinators and volunteers from different dzongkhags started the #trashtag challenge, the Facebook page of Mission Trash Bhutan started flooding with pictures of children, teenagers, students, office-goers and even elders, collecting trash from all over the country. 

One of the coordinators of Mission Trash Bhutan is Kushap Kaflay. He said, “Altogether over 2,100 people participated in the two-day #trashtag challenge from 12 different dzongkhags across the country.”

 Altogether they collected over 3,997 sacks of trash from the two-day challenge. Volunteers from Thimphu city collected the highest number of trash, weighing about 8.5 tons. Samtse saw the highest number of participants with 441 volunteers.

According to another volunteer from Paro, Tenzin Yangzom Keerub, over 200 volunteers from Paro collected over 10 tons of trash. While in Zhemgang, 75 volunteers collected 252 sacks of trash.

He said he joined the movement after a Bhutanese (facebook) friend Namgyel Wangchuk came up with the idea of organizing a mega trash tag challenge in Bhutan. With the help of another volunteer, Yangdey, they started the Facebook page Mission Trash Bhutan 2019.

From the challenge, Kushap said, he realized the power of social media. He said he was surprised when so many people from all over the country willingly volunteered on social media for a good cause.

Meanwhile, he said they have plans to start a second #trashtag challenge aiming to involve over 10,000 volunteers next time. This, he said, could be our gateway to a Guinness World Record if they are able to achieve this feat.

The idea for #trashtag has been around for several years ever since a company promoted the movement back in 2015. The original challenge led to 10,000 pieces of plastic being collected by October 2016.

However, in Bhutan the challenge resurfaced only a few weeks back, gaining a huge popularity on social media.

Although relatively new, the #trashtag challenge still seems to have inspired a large number of young people in Bhutan.

Some of the volunteers we interviewed said they love social media- the #trashtag challenge is one of the best things that happened to them on social media.

Most of the volunteers said the two-day mega trash tag challenge has made them realize how easy it is to throw away a small plastic wrapper, and at the same time, how difficult it is to pick each and every one of them.

They added the experience has now made them more mindful of not dumping away sweet wrappers or plastic waste on the streets.

Reports say, since 1950 humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, which is equivalent to 1 billion elephants.

Over 860 metric tons of waste is collected in Bhutan every week, and 12% of the waste generated in the country is plastic. Thimphu city alone dumps about 40 truck-loads of trash everyday at Memelakha, country’s largest garbage dumpsite.

According to the CEO of the Greener Way, Karma Yonten, this trash tag challenge is one effective way of waste management advocacy, in addition to what the social entrepreneurs are doing.

He said more such movements should come into picture, promoting sanitation and environmental causes, for a bigger social good. 

We should motivate youths to take up such challenges more often with some perks or rewards, to make such events an annual trend of a sort among them, he added.

“Such movements, I think, will help reduce the escalating waste problem we are facing now. Especially, it will help in advocacy. Hopefully, with such events people’s mindset will change– they would be more mindful and take responsibility of their own trash in the long-run.”

He said that he welcomes and encourages more such challenges for a green nation for generations to come.

In the meantime, for whatever reasons the local do-gooders come together to clean up the trash in their localities, there is a common hope that this could help ease the mounting waste problem in the country.

Sonam Dema from Thimphu