“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” – Albert Einstein
I vividly remember when I joined my first lecture on environmental management. One of my professors was explaining how we are part of this big natural ecosystem and how nurturing nature and environment is a way of nurturing oneself. During that time, I realized how important it is to carry on individual responsibilities towards conserving and protecting your surroundings. As a responsible citizen, I have been converting household decomposable waste into compost, saying ‘No’ to single-use plastics and reusing plastic products as much as possible. But if I see the holistic scenario, the complicated compositions of waste produced on a daily basis is highly mixed. And with inadequate waste collection and segregation system within the country, this has become a complex problem to solve.
As per the recent “Assessment of Solid Waste Management Services and Systems” published by World Bank Group (2020), an estimated 4,900 tons of solid waste is generated by urban areas per day, among which 600 tons of plastic waste gets dumped in the landfills every day in Nepal. There have been traditional circular practices, especially on composting kitchen waste at the household level. However, its impact is negligible compared to the waste generated.
What have we explored?
While exploring the potential avenues that could help on limiting waste production, particularly on plastic waste, Accelerator Lab Nepal has identified a list of possible entry points that could generate a portfolio of experiments on plastic waste management.
One of the areas that we have explored is on the possibility of plastic roads. In Nepal, Green Road Waste Management Private Limited has constructed over 100 meters long plastic roads as prototypes for two municipalities. Though these roads are cost-effective and durable, the scaling up is still a challenge due to the lack of proper policies and guidelines at the national and local level.
Second possible solution that we explored is on recycling PET bottles through the Reverse Vending Machine(RVM). Though this machine has successfully been used in other parts of the world, it is fairly new concept for Nepal. J.S. Enterprises has produced a sample which is in the testing phase in Nepal and we are still exploring partners, both local governments and private sectors, to take this concept forward.
Another possible area on reducing the plastic waste is by converting them into processed plastic pellets and granules which could then be produced to new plastic products like bottle caps, pipes and other industrial products. We have explored private sectors and academia who have been initiating these concepts of converting waste into resources. Initial dialogues have been ongoing with the Technical Training Centre of Kathmandu University and Nala Plastic Recycling Private Limited on such possibilities.
Though there are various avenues on plastic waste management, we found that very limited has been done so far. In order to check the pulse and interest of the local governments (urban municipalities) on these various solutions and offers including policy reformations, we are conducting a research to map and visualize the current practices and priorities of the local governments and manufacturing companies, particularly at the urban context.
Reflections So Far
Since the offers we are exploring could also contribute towards green recovery and circular economy, we are planning to dive deeper for more collaborative efforts. After a series of brainstorming, collective intelligence sessions and dialogues with municipalities, private companies and intellectuals, we have gathered few reflections on why it is essential to work jointly with the government, private sectors, academia and community. These reflections, mentioned below, will guide us on testing and scaling our experiments further in the days to come.
- We have to consider applying Behavioral Insight approaches to explore the root causes of plastic pollution - including individual behavior - and encourage better choices for sustainable solutions and course corrections.
- The approaches that we take should be more participatory and inclusive, particularly involving local community.
- Our ideas and visions could only be shaped if we have positive appetite and commitment from the local governments.
- There should be guidelines and policies in place. And if not, we should be able to lobby for them at the federal, provincial and local level.
- We need to ensure that the government, private sectors and community are willing to contribute.
- There is a need to include academia, experts and like-minded institutions for more collective insights.
- It is essential to inform about the early signs, trends and patterns on plastic waste management globally through horizon scanning to the multi-stakeholders in order to garner the best practices available.
UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal is working closely with development partners, the private sectors and grassroot innovators as a “vehicle” to test innovative solutions around unplanned urbanization and unemployment. It is on a quest to invest technical expertise on these two frontier issues in order to map, and explore a portfolio of experiments to foresee more possibilities.