Every few weeks or so, the residents of Kathmandu Valley come across piles of garbage on their streets which remain uncollected either due to damaged road conditions or disputes with the residents of landfill sites. With Kathmandu valley’s current landfill Sisdol filled to the brim and another landfill site Bancharedanda under construction, it is high time we start to think about a better alternative to dumping our garbage in landfills and look for a sustainable long-term solution.
We have all heard of the term “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” but few of us have actually used those principles in practice. At present, over 1200 metric tonnes of garbage are collected every day from inside the valley, 65% of which are organic and compostable and 15-20% is recyclable. An average household produces all kinds of waste including plastics, kitchen waste, papers, etc. on a daily basis, all of which are piled onto the same plastic bag and sent off to landfill through private collectors. The residents of the valley do not separate their waste into decomposable, recyclable, and non-recyclable. With most of the residents in Kathmandu valley living in tight and enclosed spaces with busy lives, separation of garbage into dry waste and wet waste does not even cross people’s mind. In a country where the waste we produce is someone else’s concern, it is difficult to convince people to put the extra effort in segregating their waste.
Once segregated, the wastes could be treated separately according to the type. The decomposable waste could be easily converted into manure for small kitchen gardens and flowerpots at home. But since most residents lack the space to have a kitchen garden in the first place, let alone compost their own manure, small compost sites could be created in each local community where vegetables and other decomposable waste are collected on a regular basis. Such compost sites could be made profitable both by charging people for disposal of compostable waste as well as selling the manure resulting from the composting process. Nepal imports chemical fertilizers worth NPR 19 billion annually with annual demand estimated at 700,000 tonnes, most of which are subsidized by the government. Successful composting of organic waste would not only reduce the waste collected at landfills, but also reduce Nepal’s dependency on imported chemical fertilizers.
An increasingly busy life of the valley residents has increased the need for convenience. Vegetables, fruits, lentils, grains etc. now come pre-packaged with plastics in supermarkets which used to be sold unpackaged by small scale shopkeepers. E-commerce platforms tend to use excessive plastic packaging to ensure safe delivery, and with online shopping increasing, the amount of plastic that we use will also increase. Restaurants and food delivery services use plastic containers to package their food with no system for collection of used containers. Low quality, fast fashion clothes and shoes tend to get damaged easily and need to be disposed off. As we move towards economic growth, our production and use of plastics has been increased significantly. A successful public campaign, such as the one which led to the discontinuation of plastic shopping bags, can be conducted via awareness programs and pressure groups to discourage use of plastic packaging in products.
Nepali people do practice the concept of reuse and recycle to some extent. Plastic bottles and containers are reused for storing food, single use plastic bags are collected and reused, old and worn-out clothing are repurposed as pyjamas or cleaning rags. Recycling in Nepal has been limited to small-scale collectors who offer a small sum of money in exchange for books, newspapers, metal scraps, and small electrical appliances. Nepal currently has one PET bottles recycling plant which recycles 40 million bottles per year, or 1200 tons of plastic recycled annually. Recently, recycling entrepreneurs have emerged who provide improved collection services with online booking, listing prices on their websites, and door-to-door collection. A concrete plan for the recycling of segregated waste must be created and promoted. Metals like aluminium and iron can be melted to produce new materials at a low cost. Plastics such as PVC and PETs can be cleaned and heated to form new plastics. Newspapers and printing paper can be recycled to make new papers in both large and small factories. While recycling glass, care must be taken to not mix plate glass, and glass bottles, and colored glasses must be recycled separately. The private sector’s increasing involvement in recycling is a step in the right direction, however, they are of no use if there is no segregation of waste at source.
A change in the mindset and culture of people is important, but so is the policies to channel them into the right direction. A government policy that makes separation of waste at source mandatory along with subsidizing the purchase of separate bins for compostable, recyclable, and non-recyclable is necessary. Recycling entrepreneurs must be encouraged through tax incentives and other exemptions along with subsidizing large scale recycling plants. Consistent and long-term action plan needs to be created by the government in order to successfully decrease the proportion of waste that goes into landfills.