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River pollution and waste pickers' struggle for recognition, Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu Valley has failed to handle its growing waste volumes, leading to uncontrolled dumping, contaminated rivers, and toxic landfills. Amidst all this, informal waste pickers recover large amounts of recyclables but remain highly marginalized.


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. [1][2]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:River pollution and waste pickers' struggle for recognition, Kathmandu, Nepal
State or province:Kathmandu Valley
Location of conflict:Kathmandu
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Sand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The new Bancharadanda landfill is being constructed by the companies Lumbini Koshi and Neupane JV, under the supervision of the Finnish-Nepalese joint venture Nepwaste. It should handle waste from Kathmandu and nine neighboring municipalities and is planned to open in 2021. It is located in Nuwakot, about three kilometers from the currently used Sisdol landfill, which has reached its capacities. In addition, Nepwaste will establish a new transfer station in Kathmandu as well as a processing facility, which should improve the recovery of organic material (currently 63 percent of all waste). [2][7][10]

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:2005
Company names or state enterprises:Nepwaste Pvt from Finland - in charge of setting up new waste management scheme (with ~ 65 sub-contractors)
Relevant government actors:Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC)
Government of Nepal
International and Finance InstitutionsInvestment Board Nepal (IBN) from Nepal - provides funding for new waste management infrastructure
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Practical Action & PRISM project
Federation of Women Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal
Samyukta Safai Jagaran (SASAJA)
Deukhel Mahila Kawad Samuha
Nepal Pollution and Control Environment Management Centre
GRID-Arendal Foundation
Independent Garbage Cleaners Union of Nepal (IGCUN)
Nepal River Conservation Trust
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Wastepickers, recyclers
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Weekly clean-up
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Proposal and development of alternatives:Improving waste pickers' access to public services and social security seems to be a crucial step forward if implemented unconditionally. When it comes to the formalization of waste management, a careful and socially-inclusive approach is needed, in order to avoid excluding parts of an already vulnerable community in private and profit-driven schemes. It would thus be recommendable to intensify capacity-building for informal waste pickers and to support grassroots and women self-help groups. The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec) and the organization WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing) advocate cooperative-based models of recycling, as already practiced in numerous cities around the globe – from Pune in India to Belo Horizonte in Brazil.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Kathmandu's dumping problem is unsolved, although the new plans promise an improvement. The damages to the river ecosystem cannot be undone, but the clean-up could be a first step towards a healthier environment. Also informal waste workers have slowly become empowered at the grassroots level, but still remain excluded from the formal waste management system, which does still not prioritize recycling.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Solid Waste Management Act 2011

Labour Act 2017

Contributions Based Social Security Act 2017

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] UNEP-IETC, GRID-Arendal (2019): Gender and waste nexus: experiences from Bhutan, Mongolia and Nepal.

[15] Practical Action (2014): PRISM. Changing the lives of informal waste workers.

[3] Kakshapati, N. (2007): Rubbish Life. Nepali Times, Issue 374. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[5] Bhushal, R. (2014): Citizen-led campaign revives Kathmandu’s dead river. The Third Pole, 03.06.2014. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[6] Rasaili, S. (2019): Sisdol: Landfill site holding one-third population's waste. MyRepública, 10.07.2019. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Samiti, R. (2020): KMC grapples with waste management woes. The Himalayan Times, 09.02.2020. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Samiti, R. (2018): KMC to construct ‘new garbage site soon’. Kathmandu Post, 29.06.2018. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[10] Kathmandu Post (2018): IBN, Nepwaste sign deal for waste management. 08.03.2018. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[11] Duzgun, M. (2013): Kathmandu's waste pickers: the women who provide for their families. The Guardian, 12.09.2013. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[13] Globalrec (n.d.): Kathmandu Nepal. City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

[14] Devkota, S. (2013): Success stories from Nepal: waste pickers participate in trainings. Globalrec, 13.02.2013. (Online, last accessed: 20.04.2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update04/05/2020
Conflict ID:4897
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