Nepal’s waste (mis)management problem

The improper management of garbage landfills has had an adverse effect on Nepal's environment and people's health. What should the country do to mitigate it?

Garbage dumped at Sisdol landfill site. (File photo)

Anushka Nepal

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: Nepal has three major waste landfills—in Sisdol, Pokhara, and Karaute Danda—of which, the former is an open landfill and the latter two are sanitary landfills. These landfills are monitored by local authorities. Besides these three, there are several other open landfills, where waste materials are piled up haphazardly. Little thought seems to have gone in assessing their impacts, environmental and related to public health.

The most glaring example of waste mismanagement is the Sisdol landfill, where the Kathmandu Valley’s garbage is dumped, said Binod Bhatta, an environmental expert who works in natural resource management. “It seems like the garbage is just being dumped for the purpose of filling the pit.”

Improper waste management at landfill sites causes various impacts that include fatal accidents, infrastructure damage, pollution of the local environment, off-gassing of methane generated by decaying organic wastes, and proliferate disease vectors such as rats and flies.

According to the Waste Management Baseline Survey of Nepal 2020, done by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of open landfills is more than properly monitored sanitary landfills. Especially in the municipalities, there are several open landfills near the residential areas that have a major effect on human health. 

Source: Waste Management Baseline Survey of Nepal 2020

The graph shows that there are a lot of open landfills in the municipalities. Especially in the rural areas, landfills are close to the residential area. 

Besides these landfills, there are many other ways people dispose of their waste, especially in rural areas. The garbage is dumped in the river banks or is burnt in the pyre, according to the survey. This increases the contamination of water in the river while the fire increases the number of toxic gases in the air. This also contributes to the production of greenhouse gases. 

Still, the government has not managed to create a proper landfill site that will withstand the increasing urbanization and population growth in Nepal. 

Impact of these landfills 

Bhatta said that the unmanaged garbage dump can produce an unnatural amount of methane that abets climate change and has a bad effect on human health. 

This emission of methane has a long-term effect on the ecosystem. It increases the risk of global warming, abets climate change, and might also start a fire in the area.

The impacts of improper waste management at landfill sites include fatal accidents, infrastructure damage, pollution of the local environment, off-gassing of methane generated by decaying organic wastes, disease vectors such as rats and flies, especially from improperly operated landfills, which seem to be common in Nepal. 

Furthermore, these open landfills disrupt the natural habitat of animals, while also harming their health. Scavenging animals and birds dig in the landfill in search of food due to which there is a high chance of them being the victims of this unmanaged waste. 

The disruption in the nearby natural habitat also poses a risk to the ecosystem, creating a long-term effect on the ecosystem.

Also, they contribute to scattering garbage and taking it outside of the landfill sites to residential areas.

Not only this but there is a higher risk of some soluble matters along with leachates (liquid formed when waste breaks down in the landfill and water filters through that waste) in the garbage mixing up with the water. These leachates produce a high amount of ammonia as well as other poisons such as mercury, creating eutrophication, a gradual process where the entire body of water is contaminated with chemicals such as phosphorus, ammonia and nitrates, or a shortage of oxygen in adjacent water sources, due to increased plant growth. Due to a shortage of oxygen, eutrophication causes “dead zones” where creatures cannot survive. 

Bhatta believes that the authorities have not paid heed to the emission of these harmful substances that cause a negative effect on human health, causing diseases, which might also build-up to an epidemic.

Better alternative

Although landfills are necessary for the proper disposal of garbage from the cities and municipalities, there are ways to make them less harmful to the environment and human health.

Bhatta said that there is nearly 90 percent of waste material that can be recycled but unfortunately, the management has failed to do so. 

With the proper implementation of 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle), these impacts can be easily avoided. 

Firstly, it is crucial for everyone to minimize the usage of plastic on a daily basis. According to the data from Waste Management Baseline Survey of Nepal 2020, the maximum amount of waste is produced from the household. If each household reduces the usage of plastic, there will be a significant change in the collection of garbage. 

Waste Management Baseline Survey of Nepal 2020

Secondly, Bhatta believes that the authorities managing the waste must do their part in separating the biodegradable waste from the non-biodegradable. From the non-biodegradables, everything that can possibly be recycled must be sent for the recycling process. This can reduce the amount of waste on landfill sites. 

For the ones that cannot be recycled, the risk factors can be prevented if the waste is dumped and buried. This minimizes the risk of spreading unwanted chemicals and risk factors to the environment said Bhatta.

According to him, the other alternative could be the production of energy from these wastes. The waste can be properly managed by burning it, which produces heat energy. This energy can then be further converted into other forms of energy. This will not only have proper management of the disposed waste but in turn, will also help in the production of energy. 

With the proper resources and establishment of glass factories, it is also possible to recycle glass materials, also one of the major components found in the garbage dump in Nepal.

Moreover, it is important to have proper landfill sites in Nepal. With the past history, Nepal has been using the same landfill sites for years which is not helpful for the environment. With the proper management and study of these landfill sites, the risk factors towards the environment can be avoided, said Bhatta. 

Many countries across the world have implemented proper management of waste disposal and time is running out for Nepal to do the same, Bhatta said, adding that it is essential for the country to study and learn from those methods.

There are many ways to improve the status of waste management in Nepal, but it requires a proper initiation from the government, local bodies as well as the public, Bhatta concludes.