Plastic waste management in Nepal

In Nepal, rapid urbanization and growing consumption has put increasing pressure on municipalities, as they have to deal with ever larger amounts of waste. Unfortunately, most of the towns lack sufficient financial and technical resources to tackle this problem. Often  there is no functioning  system for the collection and disposal of waste. Only around 17% of urban households and 2% of low-income households have their trash collected by waste collectors. After collection, trash  often accumulates in piles on vacant land or is dumped in the nearest river. The unattractive views are not the worst problem that this situation presents. Improperly managed waste is creating a serious health and environmental hazard for all  Nepalese.

Cattle is often free-greezing on streets piles of garbage

Public awareness of the relation between good health and a clean environment is growing. Therefore municipalities  search for a sustainable waste management system and  for the support that implementing such a system requires. They are also promoting waste reduction, reuse and recycling.   

Why is recycling a solution

One of the solutions for the piles of garbage becomes evident when one takes  a closer look at the composition of the municipal waste.


On average, 70% of the household trash is organic material and 20% consists of other recyclable materials such as paper, plastic and metal. Altogether, up to 90% of the waste could be recycled rather than dumped.. Recycling has more advantages:


- it reduces the amount of trash that would end up in n landfills


- the recycled material substitutes for raw material from non-renewable sources


- less energy is required by recycling then by production from virgin raw material.


- products from recycled material are cheaper than products made from virgin raw material


Recycling activities have been already developed in various towns in Nepal. For example, the municipality in Bharatpur and Hetuada promotes the composting of bio-waste. In Kathmandu, Biratnagar and other places paper and plastic waste are  collected. The remaining problem is the need for technology to  process this recyclable material. There are, for example, no glassworks to melt and reuse broken glass in Nepal. The collected plastic is usually transported to India because there are no local factories to recycle this material.

Local women working in plastic waste material collecting station


Plastic material


Plastic products were  introduced into Nepal decades ago, and this cheap, light, resistant and multifunctional material quickly became popular. Since then plastic sachets, containers and other types of packaging have extensively replaced products made from traditional natural materials such as wood,  leaves, etc. However, when the period of use is over, this plastic material becomes a problem, a growing amount of trash. Plastic material is not easily decomposable; it  retains its original form over many years. (The average time of decomposition for a plastic sachet is 25 years.) Also, in piles of waste, plastic layers prevent the material that is usually easily degradable from decomposing. Thus, the entire mound of trash will  exist for ages. In rural areas, free-grazing stock can easily die from swallowing plastic waste. More importantly, the piles of waste create health hazards and  bacteria and diseases can be  easily spread  through animals and water pollution. For these reasons and more, it is clear that the unpleasant views and other esthetic issues are not the main problem. The real problem is the inefficiency of huge amounts of waste piling up and the hazards for men (people) and livestock.


Lack of recycling possibilities in Nepal


To the Nepalese, collecting, reusing and recycling waste is not unfamiliar. In Bharatpur bio-waste is  sorted for composting and in Lalitpur, paper is recycled into handy craft products.  Even plastic waste is collected in various Nepalese cities and some neighborhoods in Kathmandu. However, this is done to a rather small extent.


One of the reasons for this is that there are almost no manufactories (this should either be manufacturers or factories) able to further process plastic waste material. Most of the collected plastic waste is sold for a low price to dealers who transport it to India for processing . In this way, the people in Nepal sell the raw material cheaply, whereas the value of the material could easily be increased by processing the it  in Nepal.


Also, the technology and recycling processes that are presently applied do not ensure a sufficient quality of the recycled product. Therefore, fewer companies that produce plastic products are interested in using recycled material.


If there are recycling facilities that produce good quality material, former plastic waste material can be used extensively in existing local factories producing plastic commodities. Producing this good quality material is the object of Cash the Trash. Through this project, less of the expensive raw material would have to be imported because the recycled material could substitute for the imported pure plastic.