Insights into Nepal’s Waste Management: My Observations & Reflections

January 2, 2024

Upon my arrival in Kathmandu, Nepal, stepping into Patan Durbar Square felt like coming out from the Marvel movie “Doctor Strange”. These past three months have been amazing, exploring a completely new culture unlike anywhere I've been. Getting used to life here has been exciting—I've explored around, settled in, but one strange thing that still puzzles me: where are the garbage and recycling bins?

I have always seen garbage bins in public areas for waste segregation which is obvious.
I also recall asking my Airbnb host, about segregating waste for recycling. The response was, “Don’t bother, just put everything in the bin.” However, I later learned that even if households separate waste, it all gets collected in trucks and ends up mixed at the landfill site.

During last weekend's hike in the nearby hills of Kathmandu Valley, I was treated to stunning views of the Himalayas, one of the perks of living in Nepal. Amidst the stunning green trails, though, I couldn't ignore the garbage across the ground and the large pits filled with mixed waste. As some pits already had black ashes, I assumed the waste would be burnt later. Even though there were some garbage bins on the way, the waste was poorly managed. It saddened me because what I saw was not garbage, but untapped potential resource. 


Waste generation is projected to grow alongside population growth (Kaza et al., 2018). Improper waste treatment releases short-lived climate pollutants which could increase global warming potential, impacting the environment and society by polluting water and soil, leading to human health issues (Premakumara et al., 2018). To avoid the negative effects caused during waste processing, such as uncontrolled dumping, burning, and incineration, the circular economy approach is receiving attention as a sustainable solution. This approach focuses on closing the loop through efficient resource use and value retention, therefore reducing the dependence on raw materials and making efficient use of finite resources (World Bank, 2022). Additionally, along with the new business models expected by adopting the circular economy, such as repair, remanufacture, and sharing, this can create new jobs and boost economic growth (McGinty, 2021).

To address the negative impacts of waste on climate change, biodiversity loss and disruption of ecosystem service, United Nations Development Programme in Nepal has been working with the government & local partners. It has been implementing several initiatives to address Nepal’s waste management, for instance, ‘Promoting Green Recovery Project’, ‘Waste Management in Small Health Care Facilities’, and ‘Demonstration & Scaling Up Plastic Road and Bricks, and RDF technology’. The scope of projects covers policy development, innovation of products – mainly with UNDP’s Accelerator Lab, and supporting municipalities in managing various types of waste, e.g., health care waste, and plastic. UNDP Nepal is in the preparatory stage of the ‘Green Job Creation Through Recycling and Upcycling (GCRU)’ project, funded by the Korea International Cooperative Agency (KOICA). This aims to create an enabling policy environment and effective mechanisms for waste management and recycling/upcycling, thus contributing to the green economy. Furthermore, it will raise the capacity for green job creation and environmentally friendly waste management.

While involved with the GCRU project which will be based in Pokhara Metropolitan City, I've had multiple chances to explore the city and its existing waste management system.


Presently, a temporary dumping site is next to the river, accumulating a staggering 188 tons of mixed waste each day. I can imagine that there is high potential contamination of the river and soil unless the site is equipped with gas and leachate treatment facilities.

On the other side, I also had chance to meet incredible people and organisations working to tackle this problem. I visited some local communities and witnessed how they were practising the circular economy in their own ways. One resident showed how she has been turning degradable waste into organic compost, and mentioned that other neighbours were now bringing their garbage to her house for composting.

Besides the circular economy approach at household levels, several entrepreneurs and organisations have been developing and applying innovative ideas for sustainable waste management. My visit to the Himalayan Life Plastics Pvt. Limited’s industrial complex in Pokhara first overwhelmed me with the amount of plastic bottle waste. These plastic wastes were cleaned, categorised by type, and turned into pellets that can be recycled and remanufactured as new products.


Green Road Waste Management Pvt. Ltd. (GRWM) is another enterprise deploying and transferring innovative technologies to solve plastic waste problems. From a plastic bag rental model to the development of plastic bricks and roads, this enterprise not only innovates technologies and products but also tries to disseminate these technologies throughout Nepal.

The journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara has been enriching, revealing both the challenges and the inspiring efforts being made in waste management. The resilience and innovative spirit of local communities and enterprises shined brightly. The transition towards a circular economy, evident in household practices and entrepreneurial endeavors, demonstrated a collective commitment to redefining waste as a resource. UNDP Nepal’s waste management initiatives and projects will contribute to Nepal’s greener and more sustainable future, by fostering community engagement and advocating for systemic change. And I hope we can collectively pave the way for a world where waste is not just a problem but an opportunity for transformation and positive impact.

[Sources]: Kaza, S., Yao, L., Bhada-Tata, P. and Van Woerden, F. (2018). What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 
McGinty, D. (2021). 5 Opportunities of a Circular Economy. World Resources Institute. 
Premakumara, D.G.J., Menikpura, S.N.M., Singh, R.K., Hengesbaugh, M., Magalang, A.A., Ildefonso, E.T., Valdez, M.D.C.M. and Silva, L.C. (2018). Reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) from municipal solid waste management (MSWM) in the Philippines: Rapid review and assessment. 
World Bank (2022). Transitioning to a Circular Economy: An Evaluation of the World Bank Group’s Support for Municipal Solid Waste Management (2010-20).