Birgunj shows how to manage waste by utilizing data and technology

Birgunj Metropolitan City is taking the lead in addressing the problem of waste management by utilizing the latest technology and data.

Kamala Gurung

  • Read Time 6 min.

Kathmandu: Suraj Mahato, a resident of Chhapkaiya, Birgunj, took action when he saw scattered garbage at Thakur Ram Multiple Campus in Birgunj in January. Using the “Safa Nepal” mobile application, Mahato swiftly captured photos and reported the issue. The Waste Management Division of Birgunj Metropolitan City promptly received and acknowledged the report, assuring Mahato that the matter would be resolved.

Mahato had previously reported several instances of garbage in Birgunj Metropolitan City, following the proactive footsteps of Rajina Khatun from Chhapkaiya.

Suraj reports on the garbage situation at Thakur Ram Multiple Campus in Birgunj-2.

Having heard about the application from her friends, Khatun wasted no time in downloading it. From the day she downloaded the application, she has been actively using it to report garbage-related issues.

The “Safa Nepal” application, developed with the support of Birgunj Metropolitan City and non-governmental organizations, aims to utilize smartphones as a tool for upholding cleanliness and promoting hygiene.

Suraj receives confirmation of his complaint from “Safa Nepal” application.

Laxmi Gupta, of the project, said the aim is to make use of people’s smartphones as a tool to uphold cleanliness. “This motivation led to the development of the application.” 

 Since its launch on March 31, 2023, the app has proven highly effective, receiving around 15 to 20 notifications daily. It has played a significant role in discouraging littering, with the metropolis collecting over Rs 1.5 million in fines from offenders.

Currently, there are seven tractors dedicated to garbage collection, with three of them equipped with GPS trackers. These GPS trackers play a vital role in enabling the metropolis to monitor the tractors’ progress in reaching their assigned garbage collection locations, track the duration of their trips, and determine their destinations accurately.

Brijesh Pradhan, the coordinator of “Safa Nepal,” said the application has been designed with a primary focus on the younger population. “This app has greatly facilitated proper data collection, including the daily waste collection, location information, and other relevant details, all of which are systematically gathered by the metropolis,” he said.

Mohammad Ajarhuddin, a computer operator of the Garbage Management Department, said once a complaint is filed, the garbage collection team is mobilized to the respective locations. He added, “The application can be accessed at any time. We try to resolve the issues as quickly as possible.”

Birgunj Metropolitan City currently generates 40 to 50 metric tons of waste daily. Despite several attempts, the waste management system was not efficient previously.

Mohammad Ajarhuddin shows complaints received through “Safa Nepal” application.

Mayor Rajesh Man Sing has found the app is an effective tool for waste management. The app receives approximately 15 to 20 notifications daily, significantly discouraging individuals from littering the streets, according to him.

“The app also plays a significant role in discouraging individuals with the intention of littering the streets,” he said. “If someone has dumped garbage somewhere, we receive immediate notifications. This app enables us to receive real-time information and take necessary actions against those involved in littering.” 

Mayor Singh is committed to making Birgunj clean and hygienic. He spoke about how they have divided responsibilities, with ward offices ensuring cleanliness within their respective areas while the metropolitan city takes charge of maintaining cleanliness on major roads.

Given the extensive reach of social networks and smartphones, the app has proven to be highly effective in keeping the city clean as the metropolis has already collected more than Rs 1.5 million in fines from those who throw waste on the roads.

Tale of two metropolises

Birgunj Metropolitan City is taking the lead in addressing the problem of waste management by utilizing the latest technology. 

In contrast, Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the largest metropolis, primarily focuses on waste collection and disposal rather than comprehensive waste management. The metropolis lacks data on waste collection from specific wards, waste segregation, and the percentage of plastic waste.

According to rough estimates, around 1,200 metric tons of waste are generated daily in Kathmandu. Out of this, 50 percent or 600 metric tons of waste is generated in Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC). Only 10 percent of the collected waste is recycled. 

Sarita Rai, chief of KMC’s environment department, said: “The current waste management system is not as efficient as it should be. The metropolis collects waste and disposes of it in a similar manner.”

Out of the 32 wards, wards 14, 16, 32, and 31 are the top generators of waste. However, the department lacks data on the daily waste collection from these wards. Additionally, there is a dearth of information regarding waste segregation, including organic and non-organic waste, as well as the percentage of plastic waste. The KMC does not possess data on waste collection from various sources such as hotels, banks, restaurants, healthcare institutions, educational institutions, households, and public places.

River and underbridge filled with garbage in Kathmandu.

“We do not keep data on how much waste is collected daily from the 32 wards. The private sector might keep the data. We do not have data on the nature and composition of waste. We only estimate the amount of garbage,” she said. 

Since 2013, a company named Nepsemyak has been involved in waste collection from Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Kavre districts. This company handles waste collection in wards 3, 4, 5, and 26 of KMC. 

According to Laxmi Prasad Ghimire, the spokesperson of Nepsemyak, the company collects waste two-three times a week from metropolis wards. “We collect both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. We collect biodegradable waste twice a week and non-biodegradable waste once a week.”

Although Nepsemyak claims to have data on waste collection, they do not keep data for specific metropolises and municipalities. 

In June last year, when locals obstructed garbage trucks from reaching landfill sites in BanchareDanda and Sisdole, the KMC, issued a notice, asking all households to segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. It also warned those who do not abide by the rule would be fined by the metropolis.

As per the Environment and Natural Resources Prevention Act-2021, a person or organization violating the rules have to pay a fine between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000. However, the rules only remain on paper.

Still, the KMC dumps bio-degradable waste, including kitchen waste, to landfill sites as it is. According to Rai, community-level training on composting to produce organic fertilizer was conducted in wards 1, 12, 18, 19, 20, and 25. 

“In Kathmandu, effective waste segregation would significantly reduce the burden on landfill sites. After proper recycling, only non-recyclable waste is sent to the landfill sites. However, the implementation of this process has been slow and has not gained sufficient momentum,” she said.

When asked why Kathmandu metropolis failed to manage waste by analyzing the data, Rai said, “There is confusion regarding whether waste management should be entrusted to the private sector or handled solely by the metropolis. The policy disparity has also led to confusion for the metropolis to manage waste analyzing data.” 

“The metropolis has employed 500 workers for waste collection. However, lack of resources and manpower is still a major challenge for the metropolis.”

Data analysis and household engagement 

The Asian Development Bank and the National Statistics Office in Nepal have conducted separate studies on waste management, highlighting the importance of data analysis and providing valuable insights.

Mira Lamichhane, who has studied garbage management, spoke about Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s inability to formulate long-term plans for waste management. “There is a need for in-depth analysis and research in waste management. The metropolitan city itself lacks the capacity to undertake such endeavors,” she said.

“Developed countries like Japan and Korea provide definite bags for waste collection in houses. It is necessary to segregate bottles, lids, paper, and plastics separately,” she said.

Lamichhane said the primary solution for waste management lies in source management and managing waste at the household level. The government needs to prioritize investments in education and awareness regarding waste management, according to her.

Indra Man Singh, former head of the Environment Department of Kathmandu Metropolis, suggested that waste segregation should start from households for effective waste management. He also emphasized the importance of data, stating that it would be easier for the metropolis to collect data if waste is managed at the household level.

 “The metropolis should invest in this. If the metropolis only collects non-recyclable waste, it would be easier to gather data on waste generated from restaurants, schools, hospitals, houses, and small shops,” he said.

Currently, the metropolis collaborates with 35 private organizations for waste collection, but there is no formal agreement in place. The metropolis informally cooperates with these private organizations.

Health risks abound

Doctors and experts highlight the health issues caused by the heaps of waste scattered around the streets and alleys of Kathmandu. 

Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a tropical and infectious disease specialist, said the accumulation of waste over a prolonged period serves as a breeding ground for infections and the spread of diseases.“The waste that has been piled up for a long time in the streets becomes a breeding ground for infections and the spread of diseases.”

Similarly, Dr Baburam Marasini, a former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division and a public health expert, said both immediate and long-term health problems arise from waste accumulated on streets for a long time. “It increases the risk of diseases such as diarrhea, jaundice, typhoid, and it plays a significant role in increasing dengue cases in Kathmandu.”

{This report has been prepared with support from the Center for Data Journalism Nepal.}