Little Girls from the Rooftop of the World

Did you know that even though Nepal is struggling with waste management, it also has some amazing innovations? There’s a Zero Waste school run by students and a hospital where placentas are prividing bio energy. Our mentor Paul Emmet reports from Nepal…

It was five school girls from Narayani English Public School, Chitwan, Nepal, in yellow World Clean Up t-shirts, sporting jaunty raspberry berets with a colourful feather, who moved me so deeply and permanently. Their attendance at the World Clean Up Day Conference in the capital city Bharatpur of the Chitwan province, was a reminder of why we are involved in clean-ups. Their presence and participation guide the hope that we will one have a clean planet for their children.

This year I have attended a lot of conferences and meetings about World Cleanup Day, each one with its own character depending on the host nation. This one day event, organised by Birendra Poudel and his team, was inspiring due to the extensive youth element and the high number of females (for Nepal), all with a common purpose, cleaning up Nepal. With the backdrop of the first extensive elections ever in Nepal the conference took on an additional historical context

As usual dignitaries opened proceedings, including the mayor. Our favourite school girls charmed the room in their leading of the Nepalese national anthem, and rather than immediately disappear, stayed throughout the day absorbing information, making notes and eagerly participating in the exercises.

What unfolded was a grim picture of the seriousness of solid waste management situation in the Chitwan district, yet also the urgency of sharing information and solutions nationally as well as locally. Huge challenges are ahead of this young dynamic collective, and likewise so are the opportunities. 76% in Bharatpur of household waste is organic, roughly mirroring Nepal, as Sushila Regmi from the municipality Waste Management Department informed of how the 106 people and 25 vehicles transport the trash to a temporary landfill by the riverbank, and bury it.

Zero Waste school run by students and placentas providing bio-energy

Sorely solutions are needed and there are several being piloted in Nepal, further along the curve than in most western capital cities. Päl Martenson from Zero Waste Alliance spoke of how on arrival in Kathmandu he was invited by Mahesh Nakarmi, Zero Waste Himalayas. Successful pilots include Namgyal Higher Secondary School, where the school transformed an incineration site where all their trash went to practically zero waste run entirely by the students, and generating revenue from recycling. The Dondrub Monastery, where nuns even recycle their sanitary towels, and Kathmandu Medical College Public Hospital, where 16,000 placentas provide bio-energy.

Shiva Raj Givi, an entrepreneur and social worker gave a lively presentation on green solutions and business opportunities, showing the options available at how e-commerce, recycling and reuse programmes will create jobs by reducing waste. I did a session on ‘Cleaning the Mind’ to engage positive transformation, and Luke Day emphasised the importance of engaging ‘the sisters’ in cleanup actions, who are most directly involved with household waste, cooking and cleaning, and instinctively have a closer affinity with the environment. Cleanups bring people together to remove unwanted waste to make their communities more beautiful. They highlight the short comings in the waste management process of their country and lack of education that ‘there is no away’ when it comes to trash. Inevitably well planned and community specific waste management systems can make the environment more beautiful and reduce the need for clean-ups in the future. 

Hundreds of soldiers hacking with their Ghurka knives and bagging rubbish

Days later we were invited to a cleanup in Bharaptur on the road to the airport choked with trash and debris growing into the bush. From a mere trickle of some 20 activists at 7am as the sun slowly rose in the haze, hundreds of soldiers hacking with their Ghurka knives and bagging rubbish, and police joining in the action, local politicians and youth groups also arriving to participate. In just over an hour we cleaned the entire road, in marked contrast to the surrounding area, and capturing the attention of 1000’s of people zooming by on bikes, in buses and trucks. Nepal really has a mountain to climb when it comes to illegal waste. With consistent and effective actions, resourceful, determined participation by organising more cleanups, engaging government forces, touching the youth and women, and a rolling out of ‘state of the art’ Zero Waste pilot schemes, there are blue skies ahead. This complex, ancient and beautiful country can become an example to the entire central Asian region. With their first elections coming up soon, this is a country to watch, be guided by, and supported with communicating their progress through our network and the region.