It’s been seven years since the family of Shashi Tulachan, a 65-year-old Pokhara resident, created more than one pail of rubbish in a single year.
Tulachan used to host a community radio programme called ‘Hamro Pokhara Ramro Pokhara’ (Our Clean Pokhara). “On that show, we would discuss about the environment and many topics related to it,” Tulachan enthusiastically explains. “Around 2012, I happened to discover about zero waste. As a result, I did a lot of research on the internet before practicing on my own.”
“In fact, the practice of minimizing trash was instilled in me years before I was aware of zero waste,” she claims. She was unlike other individuals who would hurry outdoors with sacks full of jumbled garbage when they heard a whistle from waste collectors.
Tulachan, who has a three-person household consisting of her husband, son, and herself, adds, “I always tried to minimize waste as much as possible.” In addition, I rarely use plastic bags. If I have to use it, I make a point of reusing it.”
Tulachan is an uncommon example, yet he is not alone. According to environmentalists, the concept of zero waste is gaining traction in Nepal, albeit at a slow pace for the time being, and they are hoping that it will assist people in keeping their homes and surroundings clean.
Zero does not equal zero.
“After learning about zero-waste principles seven years ago, I carefully implemented the zero-waste lifestyle,” Tulachan adds, emphasizing that the concept does not imply reducing waste to zero because it is not practicable.
Jayanti Sharma, 25, of Pokhara, has been following this basic lifestyle approach religiously since the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. Sharma, an environmental science graduate, explains, “I have been putting the ideas taught in classroom to actual life.” I am collaborating with an organization and my ward to raise awareness about zero waste.”
“Zero waste is a long-term vision or an ideal condition, rather than a practically realistic thing,” says Dhundi Raj Pathak, a solid waste management specialist. If one moves toward that vision, they will realize they are on the correct track in terms of integrated waste management.”
As the volume of waste production cannot be decreased to zero, the concept of integrated waste management involves provisions for landfill and other measures, he argues.
Zero waste, according to environmentalist Rajan Thapa, may be regarded from two perspectives: not producing any garbage and handling the trash produced in an integrated and sustainable manner such that it has no negative influence on the environment.
Small steps toward a larger aim
Tulachan claims she has put it into practice in her life. “I never use plastic bags when I go grocery shopping or do any other type of shopping. I make my own cloth bags out of what I already have at home and carry them with me when I go shopping.”
She continues, “Even when guests send us gifts in plastic bags, I usually return the bag to them.” We buy relatively little packaged food because we don’t have a small child at home. I try to buy groceries in bulk (unpackaged).”
Pathak believes that managing waste byproducts is more important than stopping manufacturing under the zero waste concept. For example, while peeling vegetables, byproducts such as vegetable skins and peels, etc. are produced. “Households with cattle can readily handle such ‘waste’ by feeding it to the animals. Otherwise, they can be composted.”
Thapa agrees, saying, “Zero waste is only achievable when we start using garbage as resources.”
As a result, according to Pathak, the first and most important step in achieving the zero waste target is to segregate garbage at the source level based on its composition. It means that any trash that can be managed within the home should be managed there, either by reusing or recycling, Thapa adds.
This includes producing compost and biogas on a modest scale using biogas power plants.
Tulachan claims to be in charge of waste management at her residence. “I primarily plant veggies in our kitchen garden and compost biodegradable garbage. Then I offer shampoo and toilet cleaner containers, as well as iron debris, to recyclers.”
However, this is insufficient.
However, because this is not always practical, such segregated garbage should be collected separately, and transportation of such waste should also be managed in separate vehicles. This prevents garbage from mingling, making reuse and recycling easier, according to Pathak.
Following that, infrastructure and technology for processing such segregated trash should be developed. “Technologies varies depending on the type of garbage,” he explains. “For biodegradable garbage, we can manufacture compost and generate biogas on a massive scale and commercialize it.”
Thapa also proposes the 5Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover) as another important step toward cleaning up the environment. Pathak feels that in this manner, “there will be some minor garbage to dispose of in landfills.”
Decomposable garbage accounts for more than 55% of waste in Kathmandu and approximately 60% of waste in other municipalities. According to Pathak, the biggest problem is managing plastic garbage, which is not naturally biodegradable. According to Pathak, the management of some recyclable polymers is also neither economically or technically feasible due to their large bulk.
Thapa believes that government and private sector collaboration to invest in the production of biodegradable plastics could be a viable solution.
Pathak feels that this integrated waste management technique is equally relevant in urban and rural regions. However, he notes that management styles might differ.
He goes on to say that waste management at the source, and thus zero waste, is more feasible in rural and suburban regions. However, waste management in large cities should be done centrally and on a huge scale. According to Pathak, the source or polluters should also be held accountable, and there should be collaboration between the government, people, and commercial sectors.
According to Thapa, the zero waste strategy is currently being practiced in villages; thus, stakeholders should focus on applying this strategy to metropolitan areas.
Back in Pokhara, Shashi Tulachan says she would like to see other young people follow in her footsteps.