Even as the issue of Kathmandu\'s garbage threatened to swamp the space for public debate over the past weeks, a small organisation in Kupondole has been going about quietly getting rid of the waste, and producing something useful out of it-organic compost, recycled paper, and public awareness.
Started in 1992 by a group of enthusiastic housewives from Kupondole, the Women Environment Preservation Committee (WEPCO) began working with 50 houses. Now they cover more than 1600 houses in the area. For a monthly fee of Rs 30, even-morning, WEPCO collectors visit houses in Kupondole, Chakupat, Bakhundole, Sanepa and Ghusinghal with their dokos and tri-cycles. Unlike with other collection systems in the Valley, where even-thing is put together for the collectors to dump in the municipality container or neighbourhood heap, WEPCO members are expected to separate the biodegradable for the compost.
However, as Maila, a worker at WEPCO\'s compost production site puts it, people don\'t always take the trouble to separate the plastic from the food waste. And then there are those who still throw rubbish from their rooftops and litter outside their own gates even with WEPCO active for the past eight years.
"Some people even scold us for not collecting the refuse in time. But then we have only seven collectors and we\'ve not been able to pay them so well. Funds are low. All of us are basically volunteering ." says Sudha Poudel, Vice-President of WEPCO.
But these are the minor irritants and she does not want to dwell on them. She would rather talk about the appreciation they received when they went from door to door eight years ago asking people for their cooperation.
WEPCO\'s compost plant was set up with support from the Danish aid organisation, Danida, but it is now self-sustainable. Currently a kilo of the organic compost sells at Rs 8. "Because we also want to generate the habit of using organic compost among people we are promoting it at low rates," says Poudel. The compost sells fast. "Not only has it helped support us but we\'ve been able to set an example that small community efforts can lead to great results."
Apart from compost production, WEPCO also produces paper recycled from the rubbish heap. Using machines granted by a Japanese NGO, their small factory produces office materials, postcards and paper toys of export quality. The organisation has also begun sharing its expertise with others. In Lalitpur\'s wards 2 and 10, WEPCO has trained women\'s groups in implementing similar programmes.
WEPCO motto is \'3R'-Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. "It is no secret and anybody can follow it," says Poudel proudly. "In fact, the municipalities would do well to learn from our example to make use of solid waste.
There wouldn\'t have been a garbage disposal problem if the authorities had started working at small scale community level.