When Upcycling Waste Improves The Environment And Empowers Women
"I had never imagined I could ever break free from the walls of my house. I had no self confidence, and provided no economic contribution to my family to be heard", sighs Ms. Sunita Karmacharya.
In her thirties and with higher secondary education, Sunita stems from a middle-class family in Ilam, in the Easter Development Region of Nepal. When she disclosed to her family her passion for social work, Sunita Karmacharya was heavily criticized by her in-laws, who own livestock and land for agriculture.
"I could never visualize myself walking out of my kitchen. The household chores would restrain my participation in social activities, thus limiting my access to information. I was like a frog in a well, with limited mobility", moans Ms. Sunita.
The situation changed when in her free time she started attending social gatherings and came to know the project PPP for 4Gs. Funded by the EU under the SWITCH-Asia Programme, the project, led by Winrock International and implemented in the Nepali municipality of Ilam, is paving the way for the sustainable production of commercially viable products from municipal waste by means of a public-private partnership (PPP).
As part of its efforts, 'PPP for 4Gs' has been supporting women involved in the waste value chain, training them on waste management and waste-based income generating activities. Before the project, some of these women would handle composting at the household level but were not familiar with recycling. Others were waste collectors for the local municipality.
Coordinating with the municipality and the Cottage and Small Industry Development Committee, the EU-funded project facilitated the free registration of waste management SMEs formed by women. These SMEs manufacture products with raw materials recycled from waste, such as paper, plastic and textiles. Up to August 2017, four new waste management SMEs were registered, together with four new "agro groups" that recycle organic waste. Two existing waste management SMEs and one existing agro group were provided with new market linkages.
Through these measures and the installation of an Organic Waste Converter (OWC) in the summer, the project has been successful in reducing 88.57% of solid waste disposal in Ilam's landfill site.
One of the new 4 SMEs is 'Uddhami Nari Samuha' ('Women Entrepreneurs Group'), a group of 35 women including Ms. Sunita Karmacharya that was established with the project's help on 3 April 2017. After being trained by the project, the women's group realized the importance of waste management and its potential profitability.
"I have always been fascinated by creative ideas and the project instilled the innovative and sustainable concept of generating value-added resources from waste, contributing directly to income generation", smiles Sunita, now Vice President of Uddhami Nari Samuha.
Local women were trained on how to reduce, reuse and recycle solid waste produced in Ilam. 80% of the local non-organic waste is reusable and recyclable.
Within two months, trainees learned to convert plastic and paper waste into beautiful decorative pieces. Uddhami Nari Samuha produces plastic baskets, body scrubber, soap case, paper bags, paper vase, bags from used banner, and tea mats for local and nearby markets. It takes 3-5 days in average for a woman spending 3-4 hours a day to complete a product, whose price is in the range of NPR 50 - 250 (EUR 0,4 - 2).
"The change was gradual. My social work is impactful, which adds social prestige to my family and slowly enhances my mobility", Sunita now shares proudly.
The women use their new stream of income to pay for their children's school fees and recharge their mobile phone, which helps them connect with their husbands who are working abroad. A number of them admit that their economic empowerment improved family relationships, too. "In my experience, our SME is an active agent of women's empowerment that reinforces the wellbeing of families", explains Ms. Nanuka Khatri, the SME Treasurer.
"Through the project, we have been able to coordinate with local institutions such as the Ilam Municipality, Ilam Chamber of Commerce and Industries and other organizations to sell our products. They have started to place orders and this has motivated us to customize the products and market them further", she chuckles.
For Ms. Sunita, procuring raw materials is never a challenge. The behaviour change campaign conducted by 'PPP for 4Gs' has sensitized residents of Ilam. Now shopkeepers, schools, institutions and other actors of the waste value chain provide sorted plastic and papers to the company.
"I even trained three women and it's a pride to see them utilize their free time to improve their skills. One of them prepares plastic baskets and sells them in her shop", Ms. Sunita giggles.
That of Uddhami Nari Samuha is not an isolated case.
With project support, Ms. Rita Rana registered 'Manakamana Uddhami Samuha' ('Manakamana Entrepreneurs Group') on 23 April 2017. The prospect of converting waste into sellable products motivated the mother of two to refine her skills and creativity to make plastic baskets. "I didn't want to limit myself to the designs learned from project. I used YouTube to learn how to make creative products", she shares.
Her group, consisting of 6 women, creates mainly plastic baskets, locally called 'dhakis'. For their refined look they are popular in the neighbourhood.
"We want to scale up our business and we are glad that the project is helping us to establish market linkages", appreciates Ms. Rita. The project booked her a stall to market her products at the 16th International Entrepreneurship Forum Conference organized in Kathmandu on 14-16 September 2017 by the Yunus Center, University of Essex, King's College and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
"New livelihoods with improved family relationships are making this waste management and up-cycling intervention a model that ensures women's empowerment and sustainable solid waste management through SMEs", states Mr. Badri Nath Baral, the SWITCH-Asia's Project Manager.
Text and photos: Chadani Pandey ('PPP for 4Gs')
Editor: Silvia Sartori (SWITCH-Asia Network Facility)