The Importance of Community Participation in Solid Waste Management
In Nepal, a participatory and consensus-based approach proved critical in changing people’s ‘not in my backyard’ attitude toward a municipal project.
Cities in Nepal need a proper solid waste management system. Urbanization and economic development have resulted in increased household, municipal, and industrial wastes, making the need for an integrated and sustainable system even more urgent.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting 10 cities in the country to improve solid waste management by increasing awareness, creating collection systems, and constructing solid waste management facilities. So far, only two project sites have completed their facilities. A major stumbling block was resistance from local communities against locating the solid waste management facilities in their area.
This case study is about how the project in Nepalgunj pushed through by winning the support of the community through their active participation in the project and behavior change communication.
The solid waste management facility in the city of Nepalgunj is one of three under the Integrated Urban Development Project, which is also improving drainage systems and roads in the city and two other municipalities.
Among the three project sites, Nepalgunj has the highest waste collection coverage at an estimated 70%. Without a sanitary landfill, the collected waste is dumped along riverbanks and into open spaces, causing pollution and public health hazards. Littering of waste in drains is common, segregation at source is rarely practiced, and waste recycling is far below the optimum level.
The biggest challenge to solving the problem is getting the local communities to agree to building a solid waste management facility in their backyard. They view the facility as a filthy and unwanted intervention.
Urban services are scarce outside Kathmandu Valley. There is an urgent need to improve the environment in potential urban centers to promote social and economic development in other regions of Nepal.
Nepalgunj is a transportation and industrial hub in the Banke district. The National Urban Policy identifies it as the potential regional economic center in the country’s mid-western region.
The integrated solid waste management system in Nepalgunj is based on the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle (3Rs). It consists of the waste weighing bridge; material recovery facility, equipped with waste tipping yard; waste sorting station with hopper and conveyor belts; composting plant; and waste dumping cells.
To overcome the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) syndrome, the project adopted a two-pronged approach. The first is participatory selection of a site in consultation with local stakeholders. The second is awareness raising among the residents on proper solid waste management and its benefits to human health and the environment.
During the project design phase, several consultation meetings and workshops were organized for local stakeholders, especially those residing near the site of the solid waste management facility.
Awareness raising was conducted among the municipal population on the 3Rs through community-level trainings, workshops, door-to-door visits, and media campaigns. Households learned about the positive impact of reducing waste on the overall environment, ways to segregate organic and inorganic wastes, and making compost, among others.
The integrated solid waste management system has been completed and is in operation from 17 May 2019. The waste is collected from streets and households daily. The recyclable materials, like plastic, metal, glass, and paper, are sent to the material recovery facility. These are sold to the local scrap dealers. Organic waste is separated and transferred to the compost yard. The remaining nonrecyclable and non-reusable (inert) waste gets dumped in one of the four dumping cells, which have a total capacity of 190 cubic meters (m3). It is estimated that this capacity will be sufficient for 32 years of storage.
Data is collected on the waste volume, composition, cost of management, and revenue from waste recovery. Based on the initial data, Nepalgunj waste consists of about 10% organic, 30% recyclables, and 60% inert waste.
The system is environment-friendly with no or minimal impact to the surroundings. The waste is collected in closed containers. The inert waste is covered by a 10- to 15-centimeter layer of soil in the landfill cell so that particles do not get scattered or carried away by animals or the wind. The landfill cells are built to vent out gases produced during waste decomposition and have embedded channels to drain leachate into a collection system and dying ponds.
Moreover, a 120-m3 septic tank/anaerobic digester collects and safely disposes septage waste from decentralized septic tanks of individual households and public toilets.
Lessons and Next Steps
The integrated solid waste management site in Nepalgunj was selected through a participatory and consensus-based approach, which proved critical for the successful completion and operation of the system with the full support of local stakeholders. This approach was followed during all phases of the project. It enabled the project to communicate the positive aspects of the system and change the initial negative perception of the people toward it.
Proper segregation of waste depends on motivating behavior change among the residents, which is expected to happen gradually. At present, a green vehicle collects organic waste and a red vehicle, inorganic waste. The collected mixed wastes are sorted within the system.
Under a construction agreement, a contractor operates the system for a year before it is turned over to the government. When the contract ends, the municipality has two options. One is to contract out the overall operation of the system to a national scrap dealer. This will maximize the recovery of reusable and recyclable materials from the waste and also reduce the volume that is dumped into the landfill. The challenge for this approach is the need to be specific on the contractual obligations of the contractor and the pricing.
Another option is for the municipality to take more operational responsibility and lead the system itself. In this scenario, it could still sub-contract some tasks, such as collection and segregation work. Local scrap dealers can be contracted to segregate waste and let them take reusable and recyclables materials as their fee. The compost can be sold, and scrap dealers can add value to its packaging and marketing. This approach will help the municipality to generate some revenue for operation and maintenance of the system while businesses of local scrap dealers’ benefit. Beyond this, maximizing the reuse and recycling of materials recovered from waste increases the lifespan of the landfill cells and contributes positively to the environment.
The integrated solid waste management system of Nepalgunj is of strategic importance to Nepal’s sanitation sector. It is one of a few successfully completed and effectively operated solid waste management systems. Operating and maintaining the system as per the design standard is crucial to build citizens’ trust in government’s capability to successfully complete and operate the project with no environmental pollution.
The municipal government needs to be proactive to develop a long-term strategy and plan, backed by adequate resources, for effective operation and maintenance of the system once it takes over from the contactor.
Asian Development Bank (ADB). Nepal: Integrated Urban Development Project.
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