11-17 April 2014 #702

Wealth from waste

We need to dump our attitude that waste is useless and needs to be disposed
Bhushan Tuladhar

“Waste is merely raw material in the wrong place.”

Fedrick A. Talbot, 1920

This quote from the book Millions from Waste is as relevant today as it was when Talbot penned it almost 100 years ago. 50 years ago, Gopal Singh Nepali, while describing the customs of the Newar society in Kathmandu Valley in his book The Newars wrote: “Waste was sold for Rs 0.50 per tin.”  This demonstrates three critical principles of waste management that was part of the Newar culture:

** waste has value

** waste management means waste recycling

** waste generators are themselves responsible for managing their waste

Today, when most people have forgotten these core values associated with waste management, Birgunj-based photographer Manish Paudel has once again reminded us how valuable wastes can be. For his exhibition, part of SUS.TAIN.KTM, a joint exhibition of eight photographers who through photographic narratives showed how the city is coping with its growth, Manish collected different types of waste and photographed them as one would a commercial product; separating each item in the waste stream and highlighting it – thus giving it its identity and value.

Most people, from waste generators to policy makers, view waste management as an activity related to cleaning and dumping useless matter. This will never help us manage our waste. It will only transfer this resource to another place at a great cost to the economy and the environment. Waste needs to be sorted and used as a resource, as suggested by Manish, along with many people in this country who continue to turn trash into cash and make a living from it.

About two thirds of our waste is organic materials such as kitchen waste. This can easily be converted into compost or biogas – both very valuable products for an agricultural country like ours, which is also facing problems of energy security. About 10 per cent of the waste is plastics and another 10 per cent is paper, both of which can be recycled. Similarly, other materials such as metals and even inert materials such as soil and rocks can be recycled, leaving very little left for the landfill.

Nepal’s new Solid Waste Management Act has mandated municipalities to separate waste at source and maximise recycling. Yet most cities are continuing to look for a dumpsite for their garbage.

We need to learn that the first thing that needs to be dumped is our attitude that waste is something dirty and useless that needs to be disposed. Only then will we begin to solve our waste management problems.

Read also:

Recycle, reuse, reduce DONATELLA LORCH

Calling for a greener Kathmandu TOH EE MING

Out of sight is not out of mind, BHRIKUTI RAI

Cash from trash, ROMA ARYAL