Let’s Talk Trash: Kathmandu Takes on Organic Waste

Waste management is probably one of the least “appealing” topics to talk about, but I have a positive story about waste and how the landscape of waste is changing in Kathmandu. Visiting a Waste Management site was actually my first “sight” of Kathmandu and it was a wake-up call that if we’re going to talk about making changes towards a cleaner, safer and fairer environment – we must be talking about waste.

Once the garbage leaves our hands, we think that is the end of the story, but for this project… that’s just the beginning!

Creating Energy… and More!

Pushing the organic waste

Solid waste management is a pressing issue for Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC). For the first time in the country, KMC with support from the European Union was able to install “EnergyBin”, which is a technology that transforms waste into energy.

How does this work?

As an engineer tried to explain the whole process, my head started to spin with the terms she was using to describe the chemical breakdown of the organic waste. “Anerobic…what?”, I said with probably the same look I gave to my science teachers. Listening to her explanation of chemistry was almost like having the conversation in a foreign language. But after much simplification (probably too much in her eyes), I was able to understand that the organic waste becomes electricity, and also produced bio-organic fertiliser and treated water. 

In essence, the organic waste is transformed into something usable and something that removes the organic waste from sitting and slowly decomposing. When I was talking with the primary engineer who designed this project he said, “this [kind of] technology is not new, there are many other countries who are transforming their waste, but for Nepal this is unique and this I hope people can see the benefit of this project.”

Still, don’t ask me how this process is done, how the food breaks down and goes through one tunnel into one channel and sits in this cylinder…. for me it was important to know that “EnergyBin” can gobble up to three tonnes of solid waste per day and produced 14 kilowatts of electricity (though I was told the real figure is much, much higher).

Breaking down the organic waste
Getting ready to use the EnergyBin


Plastic Gets a New Life

Part 2 of the story continues when I left the site to meet with several women who were representing a women’s group for waste management. There are a total of 2 women’s group with 25 women in each group. The women’s group is a place for women to come together to receive training and support.

“Before we used to mix all our waste and give it to a collector. But now we separate the waste at home, with organic waste in one [bin] and inorganic waste in another. We can have fertiliser from the organic waste and we use this for the home gardening.”

Women receive training to make products with plastic
A warm welcome from the Women’s Group

The leader of the women’s group shared with me with incredible enthusiasm: “Previously there was no respect for the waste workers… after getting the support from KMC it has been easier to work. We used to be working individually but now we can come together to work and share our problem. We can work as a group.”

Evidence of climate change and mounting environmental pressures are very clear in each place I travel to.The evidence is both visual and personal – from images of rising sea levels in Fiji to stories of people being forced out of their homes in Cambodia from natural disasters.

What I saw today was a project that was tackling a “dirty” issue and creating opportunities for women and families to participate in making positive change. I think that it will take a long time for people’s mindsets to shift into being more aware of what happens to our waste, but giving organic waste (or any waste) a new life is truly inspiring.

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