Diving Deeper to Understand the Driving Forces for Plastic Waste Management

March 3, 2021

Open dumping of Waste. Photo Credit: Green Roads Waste Management Private Limited

We all know that it is easy to tie a knot but untying it either requires an extra effort or an external force. The same can be said about the issue of waste. It is easy to generate waste but very difficult to manage it, and challenging to convince people on opting for alternative solutions. Hence, Accelerator Lab in Nepal has been exploring various solutions to plastic waste, understanding the root causes and barriers restricting the implementation of sound waste management policies. In this blog, however, I will just try to cover the tip of the iceberg that we have experienced through our exploratory journey towards plastic waste management.

Deep Dive to Unravel the Challenge

We explored various solutions to plastic waste driven by citizens, private sectors and academia alike, including but not limited to the possibilities of converting plastic waste into pipes, plastic-mixed roads, plastic-mixed bricks, plastics to fuel conversion, among others. While exploring these solutions, we found that bringing onboard local government authorities was necessary. In this context, we came up with few questions to dive deeper to check and explore the appetite of the local governments, especially the urban municipalities on their interest and inclination in dealing with plastic waste management.

In this regard, we found that the context and the availability of secondary data on the plastic waste, as per their chemical composition, was lacking. So, UNDP Accelerator Lab Nepal conducted a study in December 2020 to identify the waste generation scenario of the local governments and their priorities on managing the municipal waste. Through this study, we explored existing options embraced by the local authorities to solve this rising issue. Along with the local governments, we also checked the pulse from the private companies, particularly plastic producers, towards their plans for responsible actions.

Riverside dumping of PET bottles. Photo credit: Green Roads Waste Management Private Limited.

We were able to unravel few interesting facts that will not only help us but also other organizations working in the area of waste management to understand the aptitude at both levels of local government (covering 285 out of 293 units of urban municipalities in Nepal) and private sectors.

Figure: GIS Maps of Few of the Selected Municipalities (Source: UNDP, 2020)

1. Policy is needed but it is not the ultimate driver of government action:
We found that the inclination of the local governments was primarily driven by the presence of policies and directives. Only 52% among the surveyed 285 units of urban municipalities had streamlined specific plans/ policies for waste management, among which only 76% had explicit plans for managing plastic waste. However, there is a positive scenario of allocating budget for general waste management in more than 75% of the total surveyed municipalities, regardless of the existing directives and/or policies. Out of this, on the other hand, only 4% was allocated for plastic waste management.

2. Forces that drive the local governments:

Though we found that the local governments have been investing on waste collection, segregation (44%) and awareness raising programmes (35%), the practice on recycling (25%), reducing (23%), reusing (18%), promoting alternative means to plastics (11%), and energy recovery (7.5%) are still at the nascent stage. After correlating their investment with general practices and conducting a mind mapping exercise to unpack more information, we found few of the driving forces that could help transform awareness to action.

This exercise gave us a snapshot of six major forces that could help drive local governments on taking actions. These are aptitude towards taking risk; presence of the change makers within the institution, having proper institutional mechanism, positive and right attitude towards learning and implementation, having clear vision and interest towards collaboration with diverse but like-minded organizations.

Figure: Stakeholder Collaboration of the Local Governments for Plastic Waste Management (Source: UNDP, 2020)

3. A notion of togetherness for stronger efforts

Our study found that only 14% of the urban municipalities have initiated partnership with other institutions for recycling plastic waste. Among these, we found that the most favorable partnerships have been fostered with private sectors (42.5%), government agencies (22.5%) and community groups (22.5%). Regardless of the ongoing joint efforts, it was alarming to know that only 12% thought that collaborating with stakeholders would result in problem solving.

This result made us think harder that may be there is a need of trying out other tools firstly to garner  the essence and notion of collaborative approaches to the local governments and secondly to make them understand why it is required and how we can be stronger working together. From a point of view of an explorer, this is something that has already been sensed through different sensing exercises that collaboration is one of the driving forces to solve complex issues, but somehow we still feel that it needs an extra effort to make it a reality.

4. Are we Investment-ready to try multiple solutions?

The very nature of plastic wastes, from diverse sources, indicate that individuals and organizations at all levels should be mindful of their actions. Ways of managing plastic waste differ according to the nature of plastic composition, and that is where the complication lies. Everyone will agree that the best way to tackle this is by using alternatives to plastics. But the big question is how investment-ready all of us, individuals and organizations alike, are to change our behavior and opt to alternative means; and how well prepared we are to try out multiple solutions to solve this complex issue.

5. Being responsible and leading by example

Apart from the urban municipalities, we also checked the pulse of 53 private companies, especially plastic producers, on their efforts towards plastic waste management. We found that very few of them (3 in 10 companies) had interest to promote alternatives to plastic by replacing it with paper packaging, reusable boxes, and plant-based products. Though there is such an interest, no concrete steps have been taken yet. There are companies, which are recycling (12%), reusing (15%) the plastic waste that they generate and are contributing to environment-friendly approaches (11%) through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We think that such companies should be promoted and encouraged to lead by example since all of their joint responsive action could minimize plastic waste generation by 25 tons per day as per our study.  

These findings have made us rethink our approaches and will guide us in our next steps. Going forward, we will focus on enhancing and contributing towards tapping onto entry points for better local ownerships, may it be through Public Private Partnerships or promoting policies that could encourage individuals and organizations in taking up nature-friendly solutions. We are also hopeful that our quick exploratory research on Exploring the avenues for plastic waste management (UNDP, 2020) can act as a baseline for the upcoming projects related to waste management within the UNDP Nepal Country Office and beyond.

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.