Solid waste management in Kathmandu and the way forward

After the recent local-level elections, the newly-elected Mayor Balendra Shah’s initiatives have been praiseworthy in the matters of solid waste management taking into account the hardships he faced due to political setbacks. The issue of garbage lying all over most of the streets in the capital had caught everyone’s eye. Although it has been swayed away temporarily, the recent outbreaks of cholera and dengue in in various parts of the Kathmandu Valley alarm the citizens about how seriously solid waste management needs to be dealt with.

The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) generates around 600 metric tons of solid waste on a daily basis, which is around 50 percent of the total waste generated in the Kathmandu Valley. According to a 2020 waste management baseline survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics, organic waste is believed to make up nearly 65 percent while recyclable waste accounts for 15-20 percent of the total municipal solid waste in Kathmandu. This suggests that KMC should be dumping only 20 percent of solid waste in landfill sites. However, dumping of the entire waste has been a major problem when it comes to the question of the sustainability of landfill sites. This failure to emphasize on segregation of solid waste during collection was one of the major reasons behind the abysmal condition of Sisdole.

Garbage dumped at Sisdole landfill.

Given the scenario, Investment Board Nepal (IBN) signed an agreement with NepWaste which commits that only 20 percent of total solid waste collected will be put in the new landfill site at Bancharedanda and most will be recycled. A build-operate-transfer (BOT) modality agreement for municipal solid waste of Kathmandu Valley between IBN and NepWaste, a Finnish joint venture, was signed in March 2018. As per the agreement, Nepwaste had to build all the infrastructures (landfill site, processing, and recycling unitsatBancharedanda, transfer station at Teku) within two years of signing the PDA. However, the construction is still incomplete despite contract period extensions in multiple fiscal years; moreover dumping solid waste in the site has already started. The delayed construction of the landfill site and its complete facilities, inefficient collection of solid waste, and irregular disposal has raised questions over its performance and delivery.

The rate of urbanization and generation of solid waste is still going to increase in the years to come. Bancharedanda landfill will not be able to withstand such proportions of solid waste for long. 

With the recycling facilities at Bancharedanda still incomplete, the proportion of waste to be dumped there is still larger than expected. It looks very clear that these sites aren’t the way forward for sustainable solid waste management for the Kathmandu Valley. It is reported that the landfill site can sustain garbage disposal for almost 100 years – a total of three million cubic meters of garbage, but with the proper practice of solid waste management, which has not been practiced to date. It is thus high time to think of other ways to reduce as well as manage waste.

Segregation of solid waste at collection into degradable and non-degradable ones and collection of these wastes on different days around the municipalities in Kathmandu has already been started. At present, the general people have started to realize the impact of their own efforts of segregation in the household. Extensive public awareness campaigns run by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City can bring about changes in public mindset to separate organic, recyclable, and reusable waste on their own with amenities provided by the metro in terms of disposal arrangements.

Photo: Pixabay

Another alternative can be in the form of private sector engagement. As of now, there are a number of private companies active in solid waste management in the valley (Doko Recyclers, Khaalisisi, Upcycle Nepal Pvt. Ltd., Sukhawati Store Foundation, Eco Saathi Nepal, etc. to name a few). These companies mainly focus on recycling and reuse of the solid waste they collect. The administration can reduce the waste reaching landfill in the short run by auctioning the segregated recyclable solid waste to these companies mentioned above until the facilities at the new landfill site are ready to operate at full capacity. Since these companies pay more for recyclable waste, they should be promoted in the long run so that the task of solid waste management shifts from the administration to the private sector which might foster competition between them and mitigate the problem of roadside garbage dumps.

Additionally, instead of handing over the overall project to a single joint venture, Nepal should create ways to involve a greater number of companies with a certain portfolio of capabilities in segregation and then recycling. The division of areas, tasks of collection, segregation, and recycling, will bring efficiency to solid waste management practices. The increased quality of SWM services will help grow residents’ willingness to pay ultimately aiding municipalities to gradually increase the fees charged. The increased revenue can be put into capacity enlargement for future SWM facilities. Managing the larger proportion of organic waste is another concern. Waste-to-energy facilities practiced in urban cities around the world should be studied and budget allocation is needed for the construction of these important facilities.

The rate of urbanization and generation of solid waste is still going to increase in the years to come. Bancharedanda landfill will not be able to withstand such proportions of solid waste for long. Delving into better, modern and efficient ways of managing organic as well as recyclable solid waste is the necessity of KMC. Extensive public awareness, expenditure on waste-to-energy infrastructure, and commercial recycling facilities are the way to go forward.

In this effort, the cooperation of political parties and the federal government is equally important. In the past few months, the citizens of KMC witnessed a plethora of attempts by political parties to bury the efforts of solid waste management from the new administration under the very pile of garbage. It seemed apparent that the unexpected rise of an independent candidate in the local election with a landslide victory infuriated the established political parties. Obstructions of the dump trucks carrying solid waste on their way to Bancharedaanda on various occasions, the negative influence of local level politicians on their people besides their prior agreement for the landfill construction, and the silence of many influential leaders were evidence of the politicization of solid waste management. All this political entanglement slowed down the efforts and caused the current health crisis of dengue, and cholera in Kathmandu Valley and the continuation of similar antagonistic activities could bring much larger issues, whose prevention should be a priority of all tiers of government and leaders.

Nabin Kafle is a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. [email protected]