From waste to wealthAmong mountains of bottles, used electronics, cardboard and paper, Panchamaya Tamang works diligently, sorting out each recyclable into its own pile.
Published at : November 26, 2018
Updated at : November 27, 2018 07:12
Among mountains of bottles, used electronics, cardboard and paper, Panchamaya Tamang works diligently, sorting out each recyclable into its own pile. Tamang has been sorting discarded recyclables for almost 10 months now; it is her sole source of income. Her job is to categorise and sort the different kinds of waste that comes in so that others can figure out how best to deal with them. At Doko Recyclers’ vast 87 aana property in Magargaun, Bhaktapur, sorting comes before recycling.
According to a 2012 study conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Nepal generates 1,435 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) each day, which translates to around 524,000 tonnes a year. The study indicates that out of the total waste produced by households, 12 percent was plastics and nine percent paper; institutional waste was comprised of 21 percent plastic and 45 percent paper, while commercial waste was 22 and 23 percent plastics and paper, respectively. On average, 16 percent of all waste generated was plastic and paper. The research, however, did not account for electronic waste.
For Doko Recyclers, a recycling company founded 16 months ago by Kushal Harjani, Runit Saria and Raghavendra Mahto, e-waste is a priority. With the increasing number of electronic devices, the amount of e-waste has increased exponentially.
“People are more likely to replace their old and obsolete devices with new ones, but in most cases, they don’t have any idea where it goes,” says Harjani.
This is when people have two options—sell their electronic waste to roving garbage collectors or recycling agents like Doko. The agents see if they can reuse the devices by repairing them. If not possible, they extract the most valuable parts and reuse them or integrate them into other recycled devices.
“We are researching solutions to make maximum use of the remaining wastes,” says Shivani Saria, relationship manager at Doko. They also plan to automate the segregation of e-wastes, a task that five women like Panchamaya Tamang are currently performing, through the use of strong electromagnets.
The idea behind founding a company that recycles trash came to Harjani when he was doing his master’s in Germany. The infrastructure and discipline of the European nation in making the best use of the waste they produce is admirable, says Harjani. Research carried out by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015 showed that Germany was first in the world when it came to recycling and composting waste. The country recycles or composts 65 percent of the total waste it generates and incinerates 22 percent for energy. No waste produced in Germany goes to a landfill.
In Nepal, 25 percent of the waste produced is openly dumped and 13 percent makes its way into the rivers, according to the 2012 ADB study. It was this reason that made Harjani return to Nepal to co-found Doko. “Nepal is not going to solve its problems if young people like us do not work for it,” Harjani says.
Doko Recyclers collects recyclables mostly from large companies, rather than households, since the former are more likely to have more recyclables. Furthermore, there is a sort of ‘syndicate’ in trash collection from households, says Harjani. Existing trash collectors do not approve of new start-ups muscling in on their turf. “We are happy that most of the offices and industries we have reached out to have agreed to recycle their wastes through us,” says Harjani.
The problem of e-waste would not be so large if companies manufacturing and distributing electronics in Nepal included an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system. With EPR regulations, consumers would have to pay a certain percentage as ‘disposal tax’ and when the device is used no longer, manufacturers and distributors could take back those devices and safely dispose of them.
E-waste is Doko’s foremost but not only priority. They also collect other recyclable wastes like bottles and paper too. They collect about two-three tonnes of waste a day, out of which 60 percent is paper, 15 percent e-waste, and the rest is bottles and metals.
“While most used beer and wine bottles are sent for rebottling, we are also working on giving them new life,” says Harjani. Doko has turned used bottles into table lamps, cups to drink out of, toothpick holders, and water bottles. Doko attempts to embody the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ motto in all its forms, it seems.
According to Saria, people still need to learn to segregate their waste, like in most Western countries. That would make their entire job so much easier. To rectify this, Doko conducts ‘source segregation’ where they provide companies with differently coloured and identified bins for different kinds of waste. Additionally, they conduct door-to-door waste pick-up for households and businesses, paying for paper, plastics, glass, metals and e-waste.
Although just 16 months old, the company, now consisting of 22 employees, hopes to grow and change the face of the recycling industry in Nepal. But along the way, they’ve faced the challenges that come with being a garbage collector. They faced defiance from Bhaktapur locals who did not want a garbage dump in their neighbourhood. They eventually managed to convince them of the value of their work, but it has not been easy. There are few people who want to work in garbage collection or be associated with the industry.
“Nobody wants to be called a kabadiwala and that’s where the main problem lies,” says Harjani.