With no workable policy for management and disposal, Kathmandu Valley continues to choke in mountains of toxic plastic waste
Citizens of the capital snorted in derision as Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) withdrew its much hyped ban on plastic bags last month. Even before KMC could complete the month long promotional campaign in June, Nepal Plastic Manufactures’ Association (NPMA) filed a writ and the Supreme Court issued a stay order bringing the project to a grinding halt.
With the court ruling in favour of manufacturers, KMC has once again been pushed back into inaction and hollow rhetoric. Says Rabin Man Shrestha, chief of the Environment Management division at KMC, “We will continue our efforts to minimise the use of plastic bags in the city and discourage people from using low quality bags.”
Ten per cent of the garbage piled up on Kathmandu’s streets is plastic bags. More than 60 plastic industries produce 50 tons of polythene bags every day in the Valley. The daily demand across Nepal is over 300 tons and manufacturers pay Rs 600 million in taxes to the state every year. However, most of these bags do not meet government standards and there are numerous unlicenced producers as well.
Manufacturers and green activists say the KMC was wrong to enforce the ban without long-term planning and without providing alternatives to plastic bag producers and users. “Unless a cheaper and more convenient alternative is found people will continue using polythene bags despite the obvious environmental damage,” explains Bishnu Thakali of Women Environment Preservation Committee which has been collecting and recycling waste in Kathmandu for the last 15 years.
Kathmandu’s recent history is littered with similar stories of empty slogans and failed campaigns as KMC has tried and failed to get rid of the non-recyclable plastic bags. It has been ten years since a government directive required all manufacturers to start phasing out the production of plastic bags. In 2002, the Supreme Court ordered the government to enforce the decision. It was never heeded.
A decade later the Ministry of Environment promulgated the Plastic Bags Regulation and Control Directive 2011 that imposes a fine of Rs 500 - Rs 50,000 on those still manufacturing and using bags thinner than 20 microns because of their toxicity and the fact that they can’t be reused. The same year Govinda Shah, science and technology minister of the time, made a valiant attempt to ban plastic bags below 20 microns thick. To kick start the program, Singha Darbar was declared “plastic free”. But the ban did not even last a few days. Leading department stores too have tried to wean shoppers away from plastic, but without much success.
While Kathmandu gropes for an answer, other parts of the country have successfully implemented plastic bans. Ilam municipality banned plastic bags in 2010 and it has worked. Both shopkeepers and shoppers are slapped fines of up to Rs 500 if found using them.
With no workable policy in place to either curb the use of plastic bags or manage its disposal, the Valley seems destined to choke in mountains of non-biodegradable and toxic plastic waste for years to come.
Out of sight is not out of mind
Trash to treasure
Disheartened by the government’s ineptitude in controlling the use of polythene bags, a young team at CWIN (Child Workers in Nepal) began Banners to Bags last year with the goal of lessening fellow Nepalis’ unhealthy reliance on plastic bags. Using discarded flex banners provided by organisations, Banner to Bags makes shopping bags, gym bags, purses, and files that customers can buy from Karma Coffee in Jhamsikhel or order in bulk.
“The work we do is part of a broader environmental awareness initiative to get people thinking about creative and practical ways to reduce waste,” says Rushka Sthapit of Banners to Bags.