A programme for end-to-end waste management in Nepal, in partnership with the local Coca-Cola bottler in the country, has shown the way as an innovative solution for addressing the problem.

‘Nagar Mitra’ or ‘Friends of the City’ initiative aims to come up with solutions to enhance environmental sustainability. Central to their efforts is the key involvement of two of the most crucial demographics in the country - millenials and women.

Nearly 70 per cent of the organisation’s workforce comprises women, and the only non-millennial in their group is their founder Prashant Singh! Creating a sense of community, the group rehabilitates women who have been trafficked in the past, to include them into the workforce. Improved wages, better living conditions and a change in societal perceptions of waste workers have been at the heart of their efforts, giving the movement a group of passionate, committed workforce. 

As part of this end-to-end waste management project, the ‘Nagar Mitras’ retrieve, collect and sort useful materials from solid waste. Upon selling the PET bottles to fair-price collection centres, the Nagar Mitras get legitimate economic returns. Such an organised system for the collection of recyclable PET helps ensure that less waste makes its way to landfill sites, reduces illegal PET trade across the border. It also benefits the Nagar Mitras through various measures, such as skill enhancement training, safety kits, medical care and much more.   

Over the last five years, the journey has been by  anointed by successes - from hitting the ‘10 million plastic bottles recycled’ mark, to preventing the release of around 430 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to helping one Pabitra Bogati put her teenage sons in school, and a ban on plastic bags imposed by the government. 

Roadblocks have cropped up along the way too - the challenge of setting up social enterprises in Nepal, a flawed waste management infrastructure, the perils of skewed perceptions of NGOs, and the apprehensions of global corporations and scepticism that the local ones are faced with. 

The key learnings have been vital. It wasn’t enough to get waste workers minimum wage; it was also imperative to help them deal with issues of inhuman workplace environments, drug addiction and poor financial choices. Partnering with like-minded organisations, such as BNL, which provides business best practice training to female retailers as part of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative was pivotal. Restructuring the awry waste management supply chain at the grassroots level was required. Apart from environmental sustainability, managing organisational sustainability mandated converting grants into capital by selling and exporting plastic to India. 

In the success that Nepal’s Nagar Mitras have managed, there is a lesson for India too. Enhancing community awareness is just beginning of the solution. It will help to improve the condition of the waste pickers and developing a waste management infrastructure. If the local bodies can also partner with non-government organisations for solid waste management, it can help close the loop for a possible solution. Nepal is now recovering from the ashes of devastation- the crippling aftermath of a massive earthquake, rivers filled with toxic pollutants. Its waste management system is in disarray and a vulnerable economy found its hope in the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI), a movement against the compounding problem of waste management. The exploding economy of India, struggling against a rapidly amassing aggregate of more than 100,000 metric tonnes of solid waste generated every day, can learn much from this tale.