Eggs Factor: How recycled egg trays are giving Bhutanese youth a fresh start in life
At age 11, Dorji Youngten was among the top ten students in his class and dreamt of becoming an army captain; but that was a different life. A life before drugs and alcohol.
“I started using drugs and alcohol when I was 12 years old. By tenth grade, I wanted to drop out of school, but my father wouldn’t let me. Instead, my parents sent me to a private school in Paro,” says Dorji, over a cup of tea.
“Even though I was in a new school, my drug habits continued. I would often go to class high or drunk. I was never caught red-handed, but my teachers knew. By 12th grade, I was dismissed from school because of my grades and drug habits,” says Dorji.
Approximately 60 per cent of the total population of Bhutan are under the age of 24, and one of the biggest challenges concerning young people is the growing use of drugs and alcohol. Dorji’s generation has enormous potential to be a catalyst for growth and prosperity in Bhutan.
Asia-Pacific countries, including Bhutan, now have more working-aged people and fewer dependents than at any point in history, providing a springboard for growth, says “Shaping the Future: How Changing Demographics Can Power Human Development,” a recent report published by UNDP.
With proper investment, Bhutan has the potential to harness the power of this demographic dividend by supporting young people, like Dorji, to overcome obstacles and become a more resilient and self-reliant young person.
After leaving school, Dorji bounced from job to job, engaging in petty theft to support his growing drug habit. His mother encouraged him to try the new Youth Development Fund (YDF) programme on drug education, prevention and rehabilitation.
YDF’s programme opened in 2005 and today runs two drop-in and two rehabilitation centres in Bhutan. One of the major bottlenecks of the programme has been on reintegration and gainful employment of young people.
“Without gainful employment, many of the young people run the risk of going back to using drugs and alcohol. The launching of the UNDP, YDF and the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Waste Recycling Programme gives young people a second chance at life, while also reducing paper waste,” says Christina Carlson, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bhutan.
This innovative programme produces egg trays from waste paper and provides gainful employment to young people, which is supported by the UNDP-managed GEF Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP).
The Waste Recycling Programme helps young people get back on their feet. It also recycles more than 100,000 kg (100 tons) of waste paper and carton boxes a year that could otherwise pollute Bhutan’s pristine rivers and forests.
Fully operational, the egg tray unit produces 1.3 million egg trays per year, generating approximately USD 56,000 (3,640,000NU) in profits, employing four young people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, and reducing the egg tray imports using fossil fuels by 70 per cent. The profits generated are reinvested to sustain YDF’s drug rehabilitation programme.
As a result, “the local food self-sufficiency in the circular economy has been increased, and significant CO2 emissions have also been avoided from the bi-monthly importation of egg trays from the plains of Northern India to the high mountains (*avoiding heavy truck emissions of at least 114 g per CO2e/t-km transported) and the open burning of waste” says Terence Hay-Edie, Programme Advisor for the GEF SGP, based in Bangkok.
As for Dorji, he is very proud of his new work and his new friends. He already feels like he’s making a difference.
“Together we can support each other. We can help each other to stay clean. We are helping to improve our country by recycling and keeping it clean. I also have picked up electrical and plumbing skills, and I have learned skills on finance and working with other people,” says Dorji.
“Besides giving young people a job, we’re reintegrating them back into their families and communities. Thus, communities are regaining confidence these young people and as a result the youth are making a positive impact on their families, peers and society,” says Singay Dorji, the GEF SGP National Coordinator.
A new life
“I’m determined to do whatever I can to stay clean, to stand on my feet and help my parents. That is my happiness.”
Dorji has become a leader at the recycling unit and in his community.
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The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works in 170 countries and territories, helping to achieve poverty eradication and to reduce inequalities and exclusion. UNDP helps countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities and build resilience in order to sustain development results.
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Authors: Tim Jenkins and Singay Dorji