Kathmandu Valley faces a longstanding problem of littering and unregulated garbage dumping, which has among others contaminated aquifers and ecosystems. This is attributed to both a lack of awareness among the population and a lack of proper waste management. During monsoon, garbage often ends up in the sewage system and causes the flooding of drainage canals. With a fast-growing population – currently, more than 1.7 million – the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has been struggling not only with air quality but also with growing pressure on its waste management infrastructure, a situation that was aggravated by the 2015 earthquake, which alone created around 14 million tons of waste across Nepal. 
In the 1990s, Kathmandu even used the riversides of the Bishnumati and Bagmati rivers as dumping grounds. The area of Teku, bordering the Bagmati river, today locates the city’s biggest waste transfer station, operated by KMC. Waste from various areas of the city is gathered here and then transferred to the municipal landfill.  While over 30 years ago people could still go for swims and drink from the water, the overflowing with waste from the carpet industry, factories and households has killed biodiversity and most of the vegetation. First regulations that prohibit the dumping of industrial waste into rivers only came in 2011, and still remain weakly enforced. In addition, the Bagmati river has been illegally used for sand mining, while discharge has accumulated in the riverbeds, destroying the natural habitat. Today it continues to serve as an informal dumping site and is considered ‘biologically dead’.  As conservationists found, it contains high concentrations of ammonia, nitrate, phosphates, iron, arsenic, mercury, etc., and the pH exceeds 9 on some stretches, making the water unsuitable for irrigation purposes. Only over the last decade, authorities started to make small efforts to tackle the biggest damages. Since 2013, a weekly clean-up campaign – the Bagmati Safai Maha Abhiyan – has been taking place, involving local authorities, civil society groups, and often about 2,000 citizens to fish out tons of garbage from the river, above all plastic. The action was initiated by the national government but is now led by activists who meet every Wednesday to coordinate the following action on Saturday. 
Sisdol landfill has so far been the country’s largest landfill and has long reached its capacities. Located in the Nuwakot district, in the north of Kathmandu, it was established in 2005 and initially only planned as a temporary disposal site. Even though researchers considered the site as technically and environmentally unsuitable and locals staged protests, it continued in use until today and received several extensions in order to dispose of the growing waste volumes (the amount has quintupled). As of 2020, it received 1,200 tons of unsegregated garbage per day from different localities of the Kathmandu Valley, including the metropolitan areas of Kathmandu and Patan.  The accumulation of waste – including large amounts of organic waste (63 percent) and hazardous and medical waste – has led to the release of greenhouse gases and leachate to the surroundings, contaminating air, soil and the river. A recent impact assessment revealed that several places near the landfill have suffered from substantial environmental and health impacts. Nearby locals have to endure excessive odor and are confronted with frequent illnesses (dysentery, diarrhea, and possibly even cancer) caused by contamination from accumulated waste. The uncontrolled release of leachate into the Kolpu river has adversely affected agriculture and cattle in the area. 
The Nepalese government has recently announced its ambition to significantly reduce waste disposal at landfills by 2030, as part of a long-term strategy towards zero waste. In 2018, a new public-private partnership was formed with the Finnish-Nepalese joint venture Nepwaste to build a waste management scheme for the next 20 years, after which the services should again become handled by the municipality. The company now supervises about 65 waste companies in door-to-door collection, street sweeping, riverbank clean-ups, recycling, and final disposal activities in Kathmandu and nine neighboring municipalities. That promises to improve waste collection and infrastructure, as a new transfer station (in the area of Teku), a processing facility (to separate organic and non-organic waste and produce fertilizer, natural gas, and electricity), and a new landfill (in Bancharadanda) are being built. The Bancharadanda landfill was planned to open in 2021 to replace Sisdol as the municipal landfill and should only receive waste that cannot be segregated before, so the plans.  However, constructions became delayed due to negligence of contractors so that in 2020 KMC started to consider temporary alternative disposal sites .
Despite these plans, most of the recycling, however, remains carried out by the informal sector which includes door-to-door collection (often with some reimbursement) and waste picking in the streets, at informal dumpsites and the riverbanks (where still a lot of waste is irregularly dumped), at transfer stations (some of which are run by privates), and landfills, so that relatively high recycling rates are achieved (for example 50 percent for scrap).  There are between 10,000 and 15,000 waste pickers in the Kathmandu valley, many of them living in informal settlements along the riverbanks . They usually work independently and – especially at landfills and transfer stations, where the majority of pickers are women – are exposed to dangerous and unhealthy conditions, including toxic fumes and contact with hazardous waste (chemicals, batteries, mercury-containing, and hospital waste). Many of them belong to lower castes and, despite the formal abolition of the caste system, continue to face social stigmatization and discrimination, also because working with waste is socially considered as “unclean” and “work of the Dalits”. Perhaps the most vulnerable ones are people informally employed by scrap shop dealers, as they are under permanent pressure to perform. Kathmandu is estimated to have about 700 to 800 unregistered scrap dealers (so-called kabaddis). On the other hand, informal door-to-door collectors, who are mostly Indian men, are in a better position. Most of the recycled scrap is informally exported to India, which is a lucrative business that is also mostly managed by the Indian community. 
There have been grassroots efforts to improve the situation of the waste picker community. In 2013, the international NGO Practical Action initiated the PRISM project (“Poverty Reduction of Informal Workers in Solid Waste Management Sector”) in five municipalities of the Kathmandu Valley, with the objective to raise public awareness for the contribution of informal waste workers and to enhance social protection and recognition. It among others launched workshops, signature campaigns, presentations and performances, consultative workshops, and a demonstration march. In one event about 750 people – officials, media, citizens, and representatives from civil society and various sectors - participated. It also helped to form a new waste picker association and cooperative called Samyukta Safai Jagaran (SASAJA).  The project specifically worked with women waste picker groups, for example one called Hamro Mahila Samuha, which aims to strengthen women’s social recognition and protection in the sector. A group of women waste pickers benefited from training in entrepreneurship skill development in order to make them less dependent on exploitative forms of employment. 
The NGO in 2014 claimed that the project, which received EU funding, has improved the situation of waste pickers who had benefited from capacity-building, protective gear, access to bank accounts and credits, annual health checks, schooling for children, as well as higher income. Some waste pickers were also encouraged to form small businesses. 
However, it remains unclear how the new landfill plans will affect the community, and whether the recently adopted Labour Act and Contributions Based Social Security Act – which promises to improve the rights of informal workers, including possible access to social security – will be effectively implemented.