The candy suddenly lost its flavour. I watched as the small sliver of silver and purple wavered in the wind and drifted away, settling into the dust next to some other faded pieces of plastic. I guess I had misunderstood. I just watched my friends litter on the streets of Nepal without batting an eyelash.
From the day I had arrived in Nepal, my senses were bombarded. I was warned about the dust and the pollution, but the sight of garbage piled up in the side of the street and people passing it by with normalcy was unsettling. It has now become a normal sight for me: Tiny bits of garbage floating in the wind, rolling on the ground and settling into a crevice of the street. A new sight that no one seemed to notice.
But from conversations with my friends, co-workers and taxi drivers, they all mention the same thing, “Nepal is polluted and dirty”. I’m sure they mentioned this as a way of connecting to me, comparing Canada and Nepal, but what surprised me is that even though there is an awareness to the problem, there’s no action or sense of duty. I watched my friends throw away candy wrappers right onto the street day after day on the same corner street during our lunch break
Perhaps as they were growing up, this was the norm, but that is changing. Last September, Clean Up Nepal had it’s fourth annual nationwide clean-up campaign. Between 7 AM and 11 AM, over 36,000 participants in 152 locations across Nepal set out to donate time and energy collecting solid waste material in efforts to clean up the rivers and districts of Nepal. Nearly 8 metric tonnes of waste were cleaned from the Bagmati River and the areas around the Dallu Bridge of Bishnumati.
In the Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Morang districts, over 27 tonnes of waste were collected and put into proper disposal sites. The Executive Director of Clean Up Nepal, Amod Karmacharya, said, “[This] campaign is not just about picking up rubbish; it aims to provide an ongoing platform for raising awareness on local environmental issues amongst the wider Nepali community.”
The collective effort to not just act but raise a voice to the issue of garbage disposal is necessary to help curb Nepal’s growing pollution problem. But it’s not just that simple.
So, let’s explore why this is a problem. Why is solid waste management in Nepal an issue?
Well, Nepal is experiencing about a 6% in rapid urban growth every year. That means the city districts, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and several more are growing. Currently in the Kathmandu Metropolitan City area alone, there are 671, 000 people generating 315 metric tonnes of solid waste daily (Solid Waste Management Practice and Health Implication: A Case of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Nepal, 2005). And the problem doesn’t lie just in the quantity but the quality of disposal process.
First, the job isn’t exactly the most desirable. Not for technical reasons but because in Nepal’s society there has been a stigma attached to the idea of garbage collecting: It’s dirty and only the lower castes (like the Pode or Chyame who are associated with being a Kuchikar or ‘sweeper’) have been traditionally tied to the role. Even with the caste system abolished, the role still remains an undesirable one. Many municipal workers who do work in solid waste disposal suffer from chronic health issues due to improper hazardous waste disposal (as in there is no separation of hazardous materials from regular solid waste) (Solid Waste Management Practice and Health Implication: A Case of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Nepal, 2005).
Second, the existing system for disposal is very unorganized. Stockpiles of waste are piled on sidewalks, inner streets, old demolished structures, open fields and then scavengers will rack through them for metals and recyclable plastics to sell or reuse. What is left is unsystematically burned on the streets, behind buildings and in piles (Municipal solid waste generation in Kathmandu, Nepal, 2011). But these piles that are burned are the lesser problem, it’s the piles that get buried by the rivers and water supplies that create the biggest issues.
As the waters of the major rivers get polluted, the less flora there is and more health risks arise as garbage and hazardous materials leach into drinking water supplies (Solid Waste Management Practice and Health Implication: A Case of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Nepal, 2005). So solid waste management in Nepal isn’t just an issue of protecting the environment but it also becomes an issue of protecting people’s health.
Occasionally, I have seen municipal workers shovelling the sides of the curbs, taking the dust and garbage, and putting them in piles along the roads. And while there is an issue of awareness that the Clean Up Nepal group is trying to present, the systematic issue of improper disposal still remains. My friends littered onto the street because the system perpetuates that behaviour. They knew it was going to be disposed of eventually, so they continue to throw wrappers onto the street.
And while all the alarms in my head were going off because I’ve been told not to litter since I was a child, it’s a much deeper issue. Rapid urbanization means a rapid consumption of resources, which means more waste; without proper awareness and a system to accommodate such rates of consumption means that there will eventually be negative consequences to the environment and to people’s health.
As Nepal continues to grow, industrialize and build, there is a need for greater infrastructure. Partnerships between campaigns like Clean Up Nepal and the government are necessary to not just educate the populace about the issues of waste management but to create more effective systems for garbage disposal. Having designated landfills, recycling and sorting centers, regular garbage pick-up and compost systems could help Nepal’s ever expanding pollution problem but there needs to be earnest partnerships to do so. The exciting news is that there are organizations pushing for this: volunteers and youth who are passionate about protecting the environment, such as the Nepalese Youth for Climate Action, are leading the way to a pollution free Nepal.
In order to enact change, we need to not only speak out but act as well. Next time on my lunch break, I’ll bring the wrappers back to the office where I know it’ll be disposed of properly in our own waste management program we have on site. And the candy will be so much sweeter for it.
For more information about Clean Up Nepal, please visit http://cleanupnepal.org.np/ .
Dangi, M. B., Pretz, C. R., Urynowicz, M. A., Gerow, K. G., & Reddy, J. (2011). Municipal solid waste generation in Kathmandu, Nepal. Journal of Environmental Management,92(1), 240-249. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.09.005
Pandey, R. (2005). Solid Waste Management Practice and Health Implication: A Case of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Nepal. The Himalayan Review,35(36), 33-47.
Samiti, R. (2016, September 17). Several organisations take part in nationwide clean-up campaign. Retrieved January 5, 2017, from http://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/several-organisations-take-part-nationwide-clean-campaign/