How UNDP's initiative in sustainable waste management is promoting inclusion

August 27, 2023
Women and men in a row showing their boots

The waste processing center in Tilottama has provided employment to over 40 local people, most of them women and people from economically vulnerable families.

In the context of Nepal and probably many other countries, there are often pockets obscured by traditional norms where the principles of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) are often overlooked. Among these uncharted sectors is waste management, a domain traditionally untouched by discussions of inclusivity. This, despite the fact that the economy revolving around waste management has been largely informal and a significant number of workers in this sector come from the most marginalized groups. This very informality, in a way, provides a unique opportunity to reach out to the most vulnerable and neglected segments of our population.

A women talking and two men in background

Yug Maya Pangeni, an elected member of Waling Municipality, is the focal point for waste management initiative. She has been taking the lead in mobilizing the residents to make Waling "Smart and Clean".

One related experience can be observed in UNDP's recently implemented project Promoting Green Recovery Project (PGRP), which has made some headway in showcasing how a waste management project could also contribute to GESI. It has led to institutionalization of sustainable waste management in five municipalities across the country. As a result, two of the municipalities - Tilottama and Waling - now earn millions annually by selling segregated plastic waste to the private sector for recycling and upcycling. This has not only benefitted the environment but also underscored the economic viability of sustainable practices, and the direct benefits it can provide to the most marginalized people.
The waste management initiative stands as an example to showcase how every facet of society can contribute to a more equitable and inclusive future.

Two women with smile showing a flex banner with text

Women entrepreneurs showcase their up-cycled bags at their factory in Waling.

Empowering communities for gender equality

One of the most striking achievements of the PGRP has been its impact on gender equality. By empowering women in marginalized communities through waste management initiatives, the project not just promoted economic empowerment but also enhanced agency of the women and marginalized groups. For instance, over 70% of the 1300 individuals trained in vermicomposting, a sustainable alternative to chemical fertilizers, are women. Over 85% of the trained residents embraced organic farming, with 32% generating income from their organic products. These women have not only replaced chemical fertilizers with their own eco-friendly produce but have also ventured into entrepreneurship, proving that waste can indeed be transformed into wealth.
Notably, special measures were taken to ensure that people of all social groups, including, indigenous peoples, religious minorities, persons with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities get the equal and unhindered benefit from the project (see chart below).



In Tilottama, Sainamaina and Waling municipalities, over 100 women have become vermicomposting entrepreneurs, effectively challenging traditional gender roles and moving towards economic independence.
As a project marked as "generation-II" in terms of its contribution to GESI, UNDP's PGRP has demonstrated concrete results towards promoting inclusivity. The project's scope extends beyond gender, encompassing various dimensions of social diversity, including disabilities, youth, and the LGBTIQA+ community. By providing short-term employment to 190 individuals from diverse backgrounds (64% of them being women, 36% being Janajti, 35% being Dalit, and 32 being from single women headed HH), the project has not only uplifted livelihoods but also shattered barriers that once limited opportunities. The waste processing centers, a crucial component of the project, have employed individuals from marginalized groups, bolstering their presence in sectors that were previously inaccessible.

Waling mayor in waste centre

Former Mayor of Waling Municipality, Dilip Pratap Khand at the waste processing center in Waling.


The newly opened waste processing centers in Tilottama and Waling have understood and internalized the value of inclusive workforce. Out of the 20 people who are employed by the waste processing center in Tilottama are women and people form the marginalized communities. They have been provided with adequate safety measures, including medical insurance and safety gears.

In addition, PGRP also provided skill-based upcycling training to 279 vulnerable persons, including 79% women, 3% LGBTIQA+ people, 29% Janajati, 18% Dalit, and 1% Muslim. The program aimed to teach participants how to make cotton bags, masks, and reusable sanitary pads out of waste cloths, which will aid in textile waste management, upcycling, and income generation. 18% of trainees are using their skills in generating income.

Local level institutional strengthening

The PGRP's ripple effects extend far beyond waste management. The project's emphasis on safety, capacity building, and business expansion has brought about holistic change. Local organizations like WASH (Waste, Sanitation, and Hygiene), which handles waste in Tilottama, have flourished with UNDP's guidance. The adoption of digital accounting and management software has enhanced transparency, efficiency, and, consequently, impact. The WASH cooperative has now adopted an action plan which incorporates principles of gender equality and social inclusion, social and environmental standards with the support and guidance from UNDP Field Office. The new plan is expected to transform the local cooperative into a truly inclusive organization, one that respects the diversity of workforce and protects the environment.

Similarly, in Waling, the project has led to the establishment of Waling Holding Cooperatives, which has been engaging in promoting women entrepreneurship through vermicomposting. At least 50 women have found stable income through vermicomposting at household level. To further promote knowledge sharing and exchange, the cooperative has established a "knowledge center on vermicomposting" in Waling.

In the waste management drive as well, women leaders in the Waling Municipality have taken an active role. Yug Maya Pangeni, elected member of the Municipality, is the focal point for mobilizing local communities to make the waste segregation successful. "We have given special priority to women who chair the waste management committees we form at each neighborhood. We orient them on how to conduct monthly meetings, how to collect fees from households in their community for waste collection and management, how to respond when any resident does not comply with segregation rules. These community level committees have been empowered and equipped with required resources and are key to make our waste management successful. These committees have now been able to handle other local issues beyond waste management."

Non-recyclable wrapper plastics are also processed into briquettes using shredding machines.


Challenges ahead and way forward

The examples from Tilottama, Sainamaina and Waling show huge prospects for making the entire of ecosystem of sustainable waste management highly inclusive, one that prioritizes to ensure the benefits reach to particularly to the women, and most vulnerable communities of our society.

However, going forward in this direction requires much concerted efforts. Like many of the local governments, Tilottama and Waling face huge financial gaps in delivering an ideal waste management model. In terms of infrastructure, the two municipalities still need additional machines, tools and capacities to further reduce the waste that ultimately goes to the landfill. While the participation of women have been very encouraging, there is a great deal to be done to ensure proportionate representation of women and people from marginalized communities in the leadership positions at the waste management businesses and organizations. Institutionalizing the principles of gender equality and social inclusion in the entire development processes of the local governments and its key partners in the wage management would go a long way in advancing equality and inclusion in Nepal. Having already demonstrated a successful model of sustainable waste management with strong ownership and engagement of women and people from diverse social groups, Waling and Tilottama now can take one major step forward to demonstrate how promoting circularly economy can also lead to promoting inclusion.

three women showing compost

Women entrepreneurs showcase their vermicompost packets ready for sale at a showroom run by Walking Holding Cooperatives in Waling.