Refuse, recycle, reuse, repurpose plasticInstead of just complaining about garbage, an organisation is recycling plastic waste in Kathmandu and Bharatpur
Throwaway plastic pollution is turning into one of the biggest environmental problems of our times. Kathmandu alone uses up to 4,800,000 plastic bags a day, and 800 tons of this non-biodegradable material is dumped in landfill sites. One plastic bag takes 500 years to completely biodegrade, and they have now contaminated water, soil, air, and accelerated the climate crisis.
The government’s attempts to ban polythene and single-use bags have failed each time due to the lobbying from powerful companies. And now the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the problem with people going back to using more plastic material like masks, PPE, visors and gloves.
Now, an organisation working on environmental sustainability is recycling plastic in an attempt to reduce and clean up the waste while also creating jobs. Creasion was founded in 2005 and is working in Chitwan and Kathmandu to recycle PET bottles through segregation and baling before repurposing them.
“There is a lot of plastic and it is not going anywhere. The environmental elite can avoid using it, but for us the only way out is to recycle,” says Aanand Mishra, founder of Creasion. “We often see waste as something to get rid of, including plastic and tend to burn it. But we need to change this mentality. We see plastic as a raw material with a high monetary value that can also generate employment for youth.”
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Up to seven plastic types can be found in dumping sites, and the lowest grade plastics reduce the lifespan of the landfill. Of these, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are the easiest and most recyclable. But Nepal does not have extended producer responsibility to recycle the plastic the factories manufacture. And in its absence, organisations like Creasion are taking up the task.
The Recycler Sathi program was started in 2019 and is supported by the Coca-Cola Foundation. Creasion already recycles up to 300 metric tons of PET every month and plans now to move on to other plastic types such as PP (Polypropylene), PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and MLP (Multi-Layered Plastic).
Plastics thrown haphazardly into rivers and streams cause flooding, and pollution, affects the water cycle and harms aquatic species and wildlife in the region. Microplastics have been found in Nepal’s rivers, and has been traced to human blood.
Recycling can derive many benefits. On one hand, it cleans up the natural environment, and on the other, some 15,000 informal waste workers in Nepal predominantly from the Tarai and India can improve their living conditions and be financially independent.
Through the Recycler Saathi program, Creasion works closely with waste workers by providing them compensation under a fair pricing system to sell plastic recyclables instead of paying middlemen. These workers are also trained to run their own enterprises, and receive fire extinguishers, helmets, shoes, gloves and jackets to work at collection sites and waste sorting centres.
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“We work with the workers to provide them with training and safety tools. We also run development capacity training so that they regain dignity in the profession,” adds Mishra. “Waste management should be a formal occupation and the workers can contribute to the GDP.”
Even so, most waste workers were initially reluctant when the organisation told them about fair pricing and safety measures -- since the informal scrap recycling industry was run by a syndicate. The Covid-19 pandemic turned out to be a boon for Creasion which was able to earn the trust of workers by providing them with rations, safety and even legal aid during the crisis.
A baling site supported financially by Creasion in Budhanilkantha is led by Sushila Kathayat and produces 12 bales of compressed plastic bundles a day each weighing over 80kg.
“I have been working here for seven months 12 hours a day. After I dropped out of school I took up this work but this job has provided me a livelihood,” says Ram Prasad, one of the workers at the site.
The large capacity collection and sorting site also supported by Creasion in Imadol receives 1,500kg of waste a day and produces up to 10 bundles of compressed plastic which are sold at Rs65 each. The site also sorts other types of plastics, including PET bottles, and has 35 employees.
Radha Gurung is another worker at the collection site in Bharatpur. The 35-year-old has been collecting waste since she was nine, but now she oversees other staff at the site. She says: “We have more female workers here and we get paid Rs700 a day. We and our families incur a huge loss if the site is closed even for a day.”
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Creasion is affiliated with three other similar sites in Bharatpur where the waste is collected by the metropolitan city and delivered to the sorting centres. Segregated PET bottles are then brought to the baling centre, and the one in Chitwan alone receives up to 600kgs of PET bottles a day which are then compressed into single bundles weighing 150kgs by three staff working eight hours a day.
Most of the waste here used to be dumped at the riverside by hotels and restaurants, but recently they have started giving PET bottles to Creasion after finding out that they will be paid for it.
Bharatpur metropolis only has one dumping site near the Narayani River that flows down to the Chitwan National Park. It is unclear why a dumping site was chosen so close to a river, but the waste from the landfill spills into the river and pollutes water on which wildlife downstream depend.
While a poor waste management system is part of the problem, the lack of awareness and change in attitude is another. Which is why Creasion has also reached out to 10 public schools in Bharatpur, Kasara and Sauraha covering up to 2,000 children with information on recycling.
The students have now formed Waste Smart Clubs where they learn about waste segregation at source and management. Club members from Grades 6-10 then teach their juniors what they have learned themselves. Students have also planted trees in their schools and homes with plans to plant more this World Environment Day on 5 June.
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“I also segregate waste at my home after teaching my parents about it,” says 11-year-old Aman, a member of his school's Waste Smart Club. “I plan to study more and give back to my community by informing them about important environmental issues like this.”
Creasion has even set up a 'Waste Smart Museum' in Chitwan that showcases both the wildlife species and plastics. There are three buckets separated into biodegradable, non-biodegradable and plastic wastes. People initially ignored them and have now started using the bins. The organisation is also involved with replantation in areas previously deforested.