Waste Management in Kathmandu: The Overlooked Component

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All this talks about landfill management at Sisdole has me reflecting on a brief market survey that I was a part of back in 2021. In the survey, I had a chance to look into different dimension of existing waste market system particularly dealing with informal waste management system. In the brief study, I learnt what an un-appreciated and overlooked issue, the informal waste sector was.

In many developing and transitional countries, the formal waste management sector is not sufficient to conduct waste management effectively, neither being able to collect wastes from all areas nor guaranteeing that waste will be properly recycled or disposed. This is where Informal Waste Management (IWM) has filled the gaps or at least tried to. The Informal Waste Management is a form of waste management in collection, processing, recovery and recycling and many other steps in waste management that is not formalized. The people involved in this process are called Informal Waste Workers (IWWs). In Kathmandu’s case, the IWWs are involved in different steps of waste management.

The IWWs collect recyclables from streets or roadside, directly from producers, collection vehicles and from the landfill sites. There were different categories of IWWs themselves, some were roadside/street waste pickers, door-to-door waste collectors/buyers, landfill waste pickers, waste workers in sorting and transportation, waste collectors from pick-up trucks, and others. Mainly, the broad categories of wastes dealt by IWWs involved plastic, paper, and electronics waste.

Normally, plastic wastes such as PET, packaging plastic, shopping bags etc. but not hard plastic or thermoset are collected by IWWs to be sold to small scrap dealers. All kinds of paper wastes are collected by IWWs to be sold to small scrap dealers and they mostly sell to industry themselves as opposed to plastics dealer who have a much longer supply chain. In case of electric wastes, the IWWs collect, dissemble and sort the waste to be sold to small scrap dealers. The scrap dealers themselves also hire IWWs for preliminary processing of e-waste. Many private companies have started to deal with wastes realizing their economic potential but the supply chain is not that different.

In Kathmandu Valley, the total Municipal Solid Waste generation is estimated to be 1020 million tonnes per day (Pathak and Mainali, 2019). There is a lack of accurate assessment on waste recovery from IWW. But it has been assessed that IWWs process around 10% of solid wastes in Kathmandu City and about 15% in wider Kathmandu Valley (Dangi et al., 2015a). In Kathmandu Valley and Sisdole, more than 15,000 people are engaged in waste collection, waste separation, waste rickshaw pulling, sweeping and waste carrying (Dangi et al., 2015b), with most comprising of IWWs (Dangi et al., 2009; GIZ, 2018).

Given that plastic wastes account for 19% of municipal solid waste, paper wastes accounting for 17% of wastes (ADB, 2013) and electronic wastes accounting for 0.5% of the total municipal waste (cited in Awale, 2018), the involvement of IWWs in recycling these waste make for significant role in waste management. But they were not found to be supported by governmental bodies in any case. Despite getting no support, many intermediaries were levied taxes on transport of recyclables. Likewise, they are also subject to Kawadi tax (a tender is issued by the municipality for this collection). Besides, rent in Kathmandu are significantly high for them some even paying NPR 50,000/ month for rent.

The survey had also taken me to Sisdole and it was dreadful. The struggle for the villagers were real. We could tell from afar that we were nearing Sisdole because the smell was overpowering. The leachate leaking from the waste was nausea inducing.

Heaps of waste in Sisdole

Anyways back to IWWs, they were found key players in waste recycling and management. The waste at Sisdole is a major issue but the present level is still maintained because the IWWs have actively worked in recycling what they could. However, under Solid Waste Management Act 2068 (2011), it is considered an offense to carry out solid waste management works without obtaining permission. This has been repeated in solid waste management act at the local level of Kathmandu. Hence, the informal nature of waste collection is technically an offense. But this does not also favour formalization as there are many procedures related to formalization and would prefer to continue to work out of limelight. Likewise, reliance on landfill sites or disposal site hinders the formalization of IWWs.

The current development of Banchare Danda landfill might also not be enough in the long run if we do not engage in waste recycling. How many villages should be ruined until we learn this lesson? IWWs are key players for achieving waste recycling and hence contributing in waste reduction and longevity of landfill site. Currently, there is no enabling policy arrangement regarding formalization of IWWs but policy instruments are crucial step required for their formalization. For instance, if there were policies requiring that IWWs have to be trained properly to handle different kinds of waste or that IWWs should be included in the waste management stream then formalization could begin accelerating. Besides, there needs to be policy advocacy on integrating IWWs in local policy and planning. Perhaps a program or budget separation could be done.   


Awale, S. (2018) What will Nepal do with its e-waste? [online]. Available from: https://www.nepalitimes.com/banner/what-will-nepal-do-with-its-e-waste/ [Accessed June 18, 2022].

Dangi, M.B., Cohen, R.R., Urynowicz, M.A., Poudyal, K.N. (2009) Report: Searching for a way to sustainability: technical and policy analyses of solid waste issues in Kathmandu. Waste management & research. 27(3), 295–301.

Dangi, M.B., Schoenberger, E., Boland, J.J. (2015a) Foreign aid in waste management: A case of Kathmandu, Nepal. Habitat International. 49, 393–402.

Dangi, M.B., Schoenberger, E., Boland, J.J. (2015b) Foreign aid in waste management: A case of Kathmandu, Nepal. Habitat International. 49, 393–402.

GIZ (2018) Possibilities of Establishing PET Bottle Recycling Loop in Nepal. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Pathak, D.R., Mainali, B. (2019) Status and Opportunities for Materials Recovery from Municipal Solid Waste in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. In L. Zhan, Y. Chen, & A. Bouazza, eds. Proceedings of the 8th International Congress on Environmental Geotechnics Volume 1. Environmental Science and Engineering. Singapore: Springer Singapore, pp. 436–443.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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