‘Where do they transfer the entire city’s garbage?’ ‘How is there not a speck of dust anywhere?’ This correspondent repeatedly caught herself wondering on a recent visit to Tokyo. Public bathrooms there were spotless, roads super-clean, and it seemed even the gardens did not have any dust or dirt. For someone from Kathmandu, the level of cleanliness was surreal.
While there, I started becoming conscious of the waste that I was throwing away. After eating chips or chocolates, I would keep the wrappers in my pocket so that I could toss them into the nearest dustbin. The clean environment also got me thinking. Above all, I wanted to know how Tokyo disposed of its garbage.
I later found out that just like Kathmandu, the Japanese capital too relies on landfill sites. But there is a crucial difference. For instance, in Tokyo, untreated waste is not directly dumped at the landfill. In the first step, every household is required by law to segregate the material that can be recycled (around 21 percent). After this, the waste material that can be safely burned is turned into ash, what cannot be burned is pulverized. The mixture of the two is then taken to the landfill and covered by soil, causing minimal ecological damage.
Kathmandu, meanwhile, dumps all the untreated trash directly onto the dumping sites. “It seems the Kathmandu Metropolitan City is solely focused on dumping the waste without any concern for recycling and other healthy disposal alternatives,” says Shobha Manandhar, a veteran environmental journalist.
Axe now falls on Banchare?
Back in 2005 the metropolitan had signed a three-year contract to throw the valley’s waste at Sisdol of Nuwakot district. It has now been 13 years and the KMC continues to use the same landfill. Only now is Banchare Danda, also in Nuwakot, being explored as an alternative.
According to Hari Bahadur Kunwar, the chief of the Environmental Management Division of KMC, as people from all across the country flock to Kathmandu and as most of the valley is unplanned, it is only natural that there is a problem with managing the sheer volume of the waste. Since Sisdol landfill is now packed in the immediate future, Kunwar adds, there is no alternative to finding another “suitable venue” like Banchare Danda.
The locals of Banchare Danda are not happy. “The government’s promises of development in the area and job opportunities for the locals do not cut ice with them,” says Manandhar.
Kunwar complains that even though everyone generates waste, no one wants to see it dumped anywhere near them. For instance the metropolitan is now thinking of patrolling the road from Kalimati to Balkhu at night after receiving repeated complaints that some in the area are sneaking out to dump waste in another neighborhood.
In many countries, people are required to segregate waste, and waste management technology has improved so much that the trash these days is seen more as a resource than a burden. Sweden’s recycling program is so efficient that the country often runs out of trash. They even have to import garbage from abroad to keep their facilities humming. Among other things, the waste, after its controlled burning, is used to heat people’s homes via the National Heating Network.
Manandhar says that rather than thinking about managing waste, a better idea is to reduce it at the source. Kunwar agrees that most important actors in waste management are the citizens who generate it. “80 percent of the waste does not need to be picked up from households because they are either recyclable or degradable,” he says. But although the government has run several awareness campaigns in this regard, there has not been much headway.
But can’t folks be asked to segregate waste so that at least the recyclable stuff can be reused? Kunwar says the municipality right now does not have the requisite technology for recycling. “That doesn’t mean it will always be impossible,” he adds.
The sustainable road
There have been some novel approaches as well. Green Road Waste Management, a company working for plastic waste management, has built a model road in Pokhara using plastic waste. Bimal Bastola, the co-founder of the company, says the road will be inspected and analyzed for durability for a year. Meanwhile, plans are afoot to build 1-2 km of road in Kirtipur and Godawari utilizing plastic waste from local communities. Bastola says permanent collection centers may soon be set up in Kirtipur and Godawari. After enough research, this company plans to push for a policy that will make the use of plastic waste mandatory in road-building. Pokhara municipality has already been approached with this idea, he informs.
Other organizations are also employing innovative ideas. CWIN Nepal’s ‘Banners to Bags’ initiative uses the banners—the kind we witnessed in abundance during the recent BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu—which would otherwise end up in landfill, to make handy and funky bags. At-risk youth and marginalized women are hired to sew these bags. Taalo is another upcycling firm that makes fabric accessories such as neckties, bowties and headbands using wasted textiles from factories.
There are other companies too that sell stuff made of waste but most of these products tend to be expensive. Devashree Niraula, an environmentalist, suspects this may be due to the small-scale production and lack of right technology to mass produce eco-friendly products. She says most people have got it backwards. “They complain about high prices. But if more people started buying them, they would be produced in larger quantities and the prices would tumble.”
“The public should be given the incentive to segregate waste,” says Pankaj Panjiyar, business head of Doko Recyclers, a waste management company. “People will be more than happy to do so if they are paid back in cash or kind”. Panjiyar says that if the government cannot do so on its own, it can at least give interested private companies a helping hand.