The Nepal government has repeatedly tried to enforce a ban on single-use plastics, but industrialists enjoying political protection have sabotaged all previous attempts.
Former Environment Minister Ganesh Shah tried but failed to implement a plastic ban he introduced in 2008. Plastic Bag Regulation and Control Guideline introduced in 2011 was not effective either in discouraging plastic use. A Gazette notice on 14 April 2015 announced a ban on bags thinner than 30 microns, but it was overshadowed by the earthquake only 10 days later.
The ICIMOD study also revealed that the state of garbage disposal significantly affects real estate prices which are on an average 25% higher and up to 57% higher in areas with proper solid waste management system. Similarly, the price of a house with a blocked sewer is at least 11% lower.
An estimated 70% of the daily domestic waste in Nepal’s cities are biodegradable, but it is not customary to segregate garbage. Often, organic and non-perishable waste are disposed together in plastic bags. Garbage collectors also do not sort the waste, which is why they end up directly at the landfill in Sisdole which is fast becoming a plastic mountain.
Sorting garbage at home has been shown to significantly reduce the volume of waste, allowing households to make their own compost, recycle and reduce as well as reduce the cost of garbage collection. Pre-determining time and day and placing for communal garbage collection and placing trash cans for pedestrians are other ways to prevent haphazard disposal of solid waste.
Bharatpur residents pay Rs30-100 a month for garbage collection and say they are willing to pay up to 30% more for proper waste management. This is an additional Rs5 million more than what the municipality has been charging for waste management. “This means local governments could better manage the problem of solid waste without too much effort, this requires only the will to implement,” says Mani Nepal.
Ward 10 of Bharatpur has been trying to reduce waste at source by buying plastic waste from households at Rs9 per kg, which it then sells to plastic recycling industries. The municipality also provides subsidy to those who want to turn their organic waste into biogas.
Bharatpur has shown that if there is political will, plastic waste can be reduced. And by not dumping plastic in drains and rivers, it is also protecting wildlife along the Narayani River in Chitwan National Park directly downstream.
The good news is that the global movement against the use of plastic is also having an effect in parts of Kathmandu. Polythene are being replaced by re-usable bags in shopping malls, restaurants and hotels discourage straws and plastic wrappings, and paper plates have replaced Styrofoam at some party venues.
While plastic-based PPEs have been vital in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 and are life savers for frontline health workers, if the SARS-CoV-2 persists longer there may have to be a move towards paper packaging and materials.
Says Shilshila Acharya: “The prolonged lockdown has meant that people are purchasing less, and are using fewer plastic items. We can build on this momentum to reduce plastic pollution in future.”