Urban waste pickers in Nepal

Helping Nepal waste pickers escape a rubbish life

In Kathmandu, Nepal, dire poverty forces thousands of people to make a living from picking through rubbish. These waste pickers sell materials such as plastic, metal, cloth and paper that they've collected from rubbish dumps, bins and from along roadsides.

It’s a hand-to-mouth existence, earning barely enough to feed their family. 


Despite their contribution to society by removing and recycling large quantities of waste, waste pickers in Nepal are seen as the lowest of the low, treated like rubbish because they work with rubbish.


A significant number of children are working as waste pickers to support their parents with their day to day living. They have no access to formal education.


Often exploited socially and economically, they find it hard to fight this due to illiteracy and a lack of bargaining power, market information and skills and technology which could help them add value to the materials they collect and recycle.

At risk

They live in squatter settlements along the riverbanks and are exposed to health risks due to their poor living conditions and their work. Rubbish dumps are breeding grounds for disease. Waste workers are exposed to toxic substances, broken glass, contaminated needles and fecal matter. They suffer from cuts that get infected, respiratory diseases, stomach complaints and have debilitating muscular problems because of the back-breaking work they have to do every day.

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Transforming lives

Practical Action is helping to change the lives of these waste pickers. This includes giving them access to safety equipment, health insurance and education, and building entrepreneurial skills for 2,000 people.

Practical Action is also helping the ‘relational wellbeing’ of the waste pickers, working with community groups to build respect and recognition for the contributions that their work makes to the solid waste management sector in Nepal.

Better educated

Practical Action is helping these children get access to education (including early learning centres for under-fives) and providing them with school uniforms, bags, books and stationery that their parents can't afford.

“I love to go to school and my aim is to be a mathematics teacher."

"I have a uniform, it’s given me dignity.  Other kids used to shout ‘khaate’ (garbage child or worse) at us – now they don’t."

We’re also providing education for adults, including business training to help waste workers start or improve their own business and technical and vocational training, including piloting new technologies for waste processing, such as plastic smelters, pelletisers and paper-recycling machines.

Access to healthcare

“This health facility has been life saving for me."

"I got new life with the support of Practical Acton.  It was impossible to get treatment with my own expenses. I am very happy with the progress of my health as I am recovering quickly.” 

We’re providing first aid boxes and training on how to use them for immediate treatment; providing water and sanitation; raising awareness of better health practices such as hand washing; training people on handling hazardous waste; providing safety equipment like boots, gloves, masks, coats, trousers and hats and setting up health care schemes in collaboration with community hospitals.

Respect and self esteem

We’ve launched media campaigns to raise awareness of the role of waste workers, change people’s attitudes and gain their respect and recognition for the work they do.

“People’s perception towards us in our community has changed.”

Public service announcements are being broadcast on TV channels and public transport systems, hoarding boards are being placed around Kathmandu and there are newspaper articles, flyers, posters and street dramas publicising the message. 

Informal waste workers are also being issued with identity cards as recognised workers in solid waste management.

Sustainable livelihoods

We’re setting up social protection schemes to provide income security, saving and credit schemes to help waste workers become self-sufficient and launching co-operatives to provide easy access to finance.

“I plan to make some money with this new skill.”

Community resource centres have been set up to provide a place where waste workers can get skills training and informal education and to share their feelings, develop innovative ideas and work together for better livelihoods. Waste workers are also receiving support to set up their own businesses, including the technology needed to make their businesses work like sack sewing machines for sack production, tearing machines for plastic tearing, and rickshaws for door-to-door waste collection.

Let us introduce you to some of the 2,000 people across Kathmandu whose lives you’re helping to change forever through The Radio 4 Appeal.

“I want to do something better with my life” exclaims 12-year-old Asmita Khandal.

Well now she can. We’re supporting her family so she can go to school and get a good education so she won’t have to spend her life as a waste picker

“I love to go to school and my aim is to be a mathematics teacher,” she said. “I would like to thank Practical Action for supporting me for education.”

Asmita belongs to a very poor family and she has to support her parents by waste picking in the morning before school and in school holidays.

“My day begins at 5.30am waste picking,” she says. “I sell the collection to the scrap dealer nearby and come home by 8am with money which we use for our livelihood. I earn 700 to 800 Nepalese rupees (£5-6) a month.”

Asmita used to have to go waste picking after school too, but now we’re helping her parents make more money she can do her homework instead and has joined after school classes.

Dipendra Kusle is a door-to-door waste collector who collects household waste.

In return for his service, he gets NPR 200 to 300 (£1.40 - £2) every month from each household. However, there are times when people refuse to pay on time and it affects his family income. What he earned was just enough to make the ends meet. As he did not have any savings, it was very difficult for the family at the time of crisis.

Practical Action gave him training on savings and entrepreneurship. Dipendra said: “We are saving NPR 300 (£2) every month after the training.” 

“There are many opportunities in this occupation and we have been able to expand and generate more money from it,” Dipendra adds.

We have also given Dipendra a rickshaw to help increase his coverage of households and generate more income. Today, he owns two rickshaws and has hired two people to collect the waste. This has increased his income and provided him economic safety. 

Poverty Reduction of Informal Workers in Solid Waste Management Sector (PRISM)

Project leaflet for PRISM project (PIN 5000319) which aims to improve the living conditions of informal workers in the solid waste management sector in Nepal. In English and Nepali.

Poverty Reduction of Informal Workers in Solid Waste Management (PRISM), Nepal

Read more about this project, with an overview of objectives, impact and recent activity.

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Charlotte Green makes Radio 4 appeal for Practical Action

Practical Action made an appeal to BBC Radio 4 listeners to support their work helping wastepickers in Nepal escape from a cycle of desperate poverty. The appeal, voiced by radio broadcaster Charlotte Green, was on Sunday 18 August and Thursday 22 August 2013.

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