Nepal’s battle with plastic

Birendra Poudel lives in one of the largest cities in Nepal, Bharatpur, which is growing very quickly.  The town of 280,500 lies almost in the centre of Nepal. Its good geographical location affects its economy which, traditionally, was based on agriculture. Birendra himself has a Master’s Degree in Rural Development and as a volunteer he […]

Birendra Poudel lives in one of the largest cities in Nepal, Bharatpur, which is growing very quickly.  The town of 280,500 lies almost in the centre of Nepal. Its good geographical location affects its economy which, traditionally, was based on agriculture. Birendra himself has a Master’s Degree in Rural Development and as a volunteer he used to plant trees.

Nowadays a big part of the agricultural land has been converted into residential and industrial areas. There is a large poultry industry, as well as international companies like Coca-Cola which operates a factory in Bharatpur. According to Birendra, the biggest problem in Nepal is plastic bags. But Birendra points out that in comparison with the capital city, Bharatpur has one of the best community practices towards improving conditions. For example, one of the schools has banished plastic bags.

It is everybody’s Earth
Birendra has been involved in environment protection since 2012. He studied three years in the United Kingdom and, after returning to Nepal, gathered like-minded people to discuss how to help Nepalese communities to improve. “We founded Nepal Friendship Society in 2012. Each of us chose the area to take care of: better environment, quality of education, peace and development. This was the first step of my social journey,” he says. Birendra, who chose to protect the environment, is convinced everybody can make a change.

“It is important for all of us take on the perspective of being a global citizen. Our mother Earth is the one and only. We have to protect it,” he says. “I care about our planet. This is what my heart tells me to do. It is my choice in the name of future generations.” Birendra realised how huge the illegal trash problem in his country is and at first, felt that he should help as a worried citizen who cares. Then, when environmental activist Thakur Pandit  recommended it, Birendra joined the Let’s Do It! World movement in 2015. “Volunteering is a lifetime satisfaction for me,” he says. He confesses that most of his daily job salary goes to voluntary actions.

Self-organised plastic return point
Most of the trash in Nepal is plastic. Although it mostly comes from businesses and industries, people’s habits also cause much trouble. The government processes are too slow and there are no proper dustbins in cities. One of the projects that Birendra and his team have initiated to make things better is a self-organised return point for plastic bags, bottles and paper waste. They sell all the gathered bottles to a recycling company. This project may be one that gives something back to people, but most importantly helps people recognize the value of trash.

Birendra says that one of the biggest challenges is changing ways of thinking. “Sometimes educated people create more problems as they don’t even try to understand us. Not all the people act responsibly because they are not aware of the results of their behaviour. They are not thinking that there are “we” and “ours”, always “I””, says Birendra with concern. So he constantly spreads the word in conferences, organises different cleaning actions and takes part in protest actions for a clean environment and to raise awareness. 

Towards a zero waste society

Getting waste back into the economy is one of the things that drives Birendra. “There should be no solid waste in landfills; we should recycle and reuse all the garbage,” he says. That is the “right way of thinking” because even landfills are not endless areas. “Support for zero waste matters to me,” he says.  Although the situation tends to change very slowly, there are already very inspiring examples of good jobs completed.

“We have a plastic-free school here and one of the communities has declared itself as environmentally friendly,” he says. The Pokhari tole (Bharatpur ward No-11) community consists of 140 households. Being environmentally friendly means no illegal trash, sorting the waste, no sound pollution, and increasing the level of education about the environment. Residents have promised to plant a minimum of two trees per house as well.

But plastic bags remain a huge problem in Nepal. When Birendra started to research the situation at Shree Janakalyan, the basic school in Pohkari, he discovered that some students just didn’t have proper book bags and used plastic bags instead. “The school administration told us that if we helped with some school bags they could get rid of plastic bags. So getting bags was our first step.” After distributing school bags, Birendra and his team organised a discussion with the administration, parents and pupils. “Young people learn quickly and they are better prepared for changes. As a result they were very committed and promised not to use plastic anymore,” he observed. 

Getting ready for World Cleanup Day

Birendra and his friends in Bharatpur and Kahtmandu share pictures of trash spots on social media, which serves as a kind of mapping. “The app itself is good, but not everyone in Nepal has easy access to technology or no access at all. So to do proper mapping they need to team up with someone with a smartphone. So far we have mapped city areas and nearby areas where the situation is the most troubling. We have more than 500 volunteers engaged, but it’s still hard for remote parts of Nepal.” 

Birendra says that the first thing to engage new people is to inspire them. “It is very important that they understand what and why we do so that they join the movement following their heart.” On a positive note, more than 40 organisations have already applied online and promised to join World Cleanup Day on the 15th of September. Birendra and his team have also submitted their letter to the ministry and await a response. “Everyone who wants to take care of our planet gives us support. And our partnership with Let’s Do It! World gives us strength. After all, we have the same goals.”

For more information and to join a team in Nepal, please go to Nepal Friendship Society.