‘Nepal Should Implement e-Waste Policies’says Ashma Basnyat

Ashma Basnyat - Chief Strategy Officer & Partner at Doko Recyclers

Interview by Sai Nikesh D

Nepal always has high regard for safe and secure environment. However, the country still has lot more to do on achieving a complete clean and safe environment. Towards this end, the government, local and non-local organizations, NGOs and common public have been actively involved in various waste management activities over the years.

Nepali Sansar came across one such Nepal-based waste management organization called Doko Recyclers. In conversation with NS Bureau, Ashma Basnyat, Chief Strategy Officer & Partner at Doko Recyclers, shared her views on a wide range of topics pertaining to waste management and ways to achieve a safe and secure environment.

“Our generation has the benefit of relying on platforms such as Nepali Sansar that allows us to connect with larger networks both inside and outside of Nepal working on similar challenges around the world and tap into networks of capable Nepalis,” says Ashma.

 Here are some excerpts from the interview:

1. NSB: Be it changing public mindset for a change in society, approach towards environment, health consciousness, among others, we observe a rapidly-changing societal transformation across the world. Where do you see Nepal in this aspect?

Ashma Basnyat: Many Nepalis are actively involved in many of these movements and will without a doubt continue to do so. This is encouraging and exciting.  It indicates a willingness to usher in necessary change where applicable and to be a part of something larger than ourselves. It’s important to be aware of how and why all these movements are inextricably linked to us at an individual and community level.

Our choices, directly and indirectly, impact us and those around us, and our lack of choice or forethought does the same.  For example, what we eat, where our food comes from, where the organic waste goes after our meal all directly and indirectly impact our health, wellbeing, social good, economy, environment, and communities.

2. NSB: Nepal holds a special place in the world map as a country with rich natural resources and ecosystem conservation measures. What significant measures do you observe in the country over the period towards a clean and safe environment?

Ashma Basnyat: Nepal has made significant strides in this arena from wildlife conservation to maintaining certain ecosystems, however there is still much more to do. We see local efforts by communities, in some cases the government (local and national) and start-ups like KTK-Belt doing great work in both awareness and conservation.

Yet, we come back to our original point of how we need to be aware about how we are all connected to these efforts as communities and individuals.

Simple acts like refusing to buy packaged goods that cannot be recycled (like thin plastic wrapping), reusing what can be reused, repurposing (upcycling), reducing our waste and recycling can go a long way. It goes a long away because it saves resources. This too is a form of conservation and something everyone can contribute to.

Conservation can succeed if we consciously contribute to it as individuals and communities by paying attention to our consumer habits and taking strides to mitigate its effects.

We can mitigate our impact by choosing sustainable clothing options, food that comes in recyclable packaging, recycling what can be, reusing and repurposing, and so forth.

3. NSB: Clean Up Campaigns, Walkathons, among others are some key initiatives we keep hearing about in Nepal when it comes to environment protection. What impact could these kinds of initiatives make on Nepali society. Any notable observations?

Ashma Basnyat: These initiatives support two critical objectives.  First, it helps create awareness and invitations to participate in civic good. Second, by participating you get hands-on experience understanding the types of waste that is recyclable and not.

We hope that this involvement instigates one to think about their consumption habits. For example, how important is shiny wrapping paper over a paper one or lokta one?

The bottom line is that the more you raise awareness the more natural these habits become, like washing your hands, You may eventually instinctively reach for your reusable water bottle when you leave the house instead of buying bottled water. 

That being said, cleanup campaigns can only have a long-lasting impact if done consistently. The Bagmati Cleanup Campaign is a great example. This campaign is consistent with its messaging, has happened numerous times, encourages civic participation and responsibility, and tackles a very visible problem.

Another example is a cleanup event that  Doko did with ICIMOD and the Godavari municipality on World Environment Day 2018. The idea was to recover as much resources as possible from waste piles generated local shops and businesses in the adjacent parking lot.

This visibly demonstrated the importance of segregation at source, value recovery from ‘waste’, and the hazards of dumping, and showed communities what they can easily do for their respective communities.

4. NSB: Growing technology trends and consumer tendency are pushing for smart solutions, which are being looked at as technology-wise solution for a safe environment. What is your take on this? How about similar trends and their impact on Nepali society?

Ashma Basnyat: There is a growing saying about this nexus that, “Technology must serve ecology.”  This means new technology, be it smart solutions or a piece of hardware, should take into consideration its environmental impact.

Ridesharing, for example, can reduce carbon emissions and allow you to access more places than driving yourself. However, ridesharing in an environmental-friendly vehicle makes more of a positive impact.

The point to keep in mind here is that it really boils down to individual choices and understanding how your choices impact you and your community, and by extension the environment.

Relying on smart solutions will not necessarily reduce your impact if you routinely upgrade your phone without thinking about how you will manage the e-waste you just generated.

So, while these solutions exist and will hopefully continue to grow like Doko’s dashboard that allows you to track your environmental footprint, it is really up to the consumer to decide and understand their role in this case.

5. NSB: ‘Waste Management & Recycling’ is one most-happening trend globally. It’s good to hear about an organization striving for the same in Nepal! So, we would love to know on what exactly led to the inception of Doko Recyclers?

Ashma Basnyat: Having lived abroad, we were exposed how easy separating trash at source can be. In fact, it was hard for some of us not to segregate because such a simple act can save so many resources!

As we began to speak to people about this waste management problem, we realized that the issue was not that people were not willing to segregate (and refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose), they just did not know how or do not have the resources to help them do so. This need coupled with our desire to see Kathmandu be green again pushed our conversations  from, “What can we do?” to, “How do we do?” We researched waste management systems around the world, shared ideas, and developed models to work around what we knew works well in Nepal- buying and selling waste as a form of incentive to adopt behavior change. 

After many months of this sort of brainstorming, we decided that it was time to test our model in April 2017 as Doko Recyclers Pvt. Ltd.

6. NSB:  What inspired you to start Doko Recyclers? Any role model initiatives like ‘Swachh Bharat’ in neighboring India?

Ashma Basnyat: Our inspiration came from nostalgic memories of a lush green Kathmandu with Bagmati gushing through that we grew up in. It also came from having to see and deal with waste everywhere all the time and knowing that segregating waste helps save resources.

We see this being done enthusiastically around the world. We also knew that Nepal already has a culture of buying and selling recyclables. The challenge for us was that we needed to figure out a way to expand Nepal’s understanding of recycling beyond the basic paper, beer and Coca-Cola bottles, and scrap metal parts.

If most people are used to selling dry waste, why not expand the scope to include other important recyclables like plastics, e-waste and encourage separating organic waste? We aim to bring behavior change in our society that will benefit everyone in the value chain and we aim support this behavior change by being the vessel through which you can recycle efficiently and responsibly.

So in essence we took what we know works well in Nepal and then created a model feeding from other models where and if relevant. We do not have specific model initiatives.

7. NSB: Can you brief us about DoKo Recycler’s major activities (past to present), intentions and plans for the development of Nepali society? How about the public response?

Ashma Basnyat: Since our inception in April 2017, we have had a series of major activities.

That define how we function ranging from:

  • Conducting over 70 Awareness Workshops that teach people how to and why we should recycle;
  • Supporting educational Doko site visits to our Materials Recovery Facility in Sano Thimi;
  • Participating in over 25 events to demonstrate at source segregation and raise awareness;
  • Working with various NGOs and communities to develop sustainable local waste management models in less accessible areas;
  • Facilitating a Solid Waste Round Table with sector stakeholders and partners to further Nepal’s waste management agenda;
  • Launching a professional shredding service so that you do not need to burn confidential papers;
  • Launching Tatwa, Doko’s creative upcycling range for materials that are harder to recycle or have better use being repurposed;
  • Establishing an e-waste management system making Doko Nepal’s first e-waste handlers.

The public response has been very encouraging and we find that many people are willing and want to do what they can for our environment. We hope and aim to provide as much as services as we can from pick-up to shredding, e-waste, upcycling and organics. We intend to continue to drive behavior change by promoting different forms of reducing, reusing and recycling while providing our primary service of waste pick-up. We aim to scale our services so that we can reach a larger and growing client base.

We also will continue to work with the government and other sector partners to help develop e-waste and recycling policies.  Given that 2019 just started, this is just the start of our 2019 activities. To follow our progress visit our website (www.dokorecyclers.com/).

8. NSB:  It’s inspiring to know about model villages like Dhankuta that have really set a benchmark for waste management and revenue generation through the same? What more in the offing?

Ashma Basnyat: Doko works with a range of partners from NGOs like WCN that work with communities on environmental awareness to local communities like Godavari to come up solutions to fit the community’s need.

While we do not work the model villages we look forward to working with more communities to help develop models that work best for them. We hope that other communities will take inspiration from the various local models out there and develop something that works for them. We are always happy to help facilitate this, or at the very least provide guidance if relevant.

9. NSB: What is your take on government, NGO, private and funding-level support for such kind of eco-friendly solutions in the country? Any key takeaways and challenges?

Ashma Basnyat: Funding is a challenge especially for a new sector. The government lacks policies or needs to update many of them ranging from the definition of waste to include paper and by-products created during manufacturing to establishing e-waste policies.

NGOs seem to have increased funding for programs, but they are small scale and are looking for proof-of-concept before scaling. While this is normal and the set process of funding streams, it takes time. Private funding, however, has space to grow at a faster pace.

Nepal has many large companies, particularly the manufacturing sector that have or can establish Corporate Social Responsibility funding and programs. They can partner with communities or Doko to support recycling, conservation, and waste management initiatives.

That being said, just because funding may be a challenge does not mean that efforts cannot be made. Many NGOs and private companies (like in the hospitality sector) are doing what they can despite funding limitations.

For example, some of our clients who are in the hospitality sector have opted for reusable bottles instead of bottled water. Other NGOs like WCN have created community-level programs to help reduce waste, raise awareness and make waste management economically viable. These are just two of many examples of ways around funding limitations.

10. NSB: We see the tremendous role of youth towards social cause and change in every society. Same is the case with Nepal. What is your observation on this? To what extent is the Nepali youth open for such initiatives?

Ashma Basnyat: They definitely are. There is so much willingness, drive, creativity, ingenuity, and intellect in Nepal that we think there is so much more to come.

We have seen an increase of new market solutions and young entrepreneurs in Nepal ranging from IT to art making strides. We are excited to see and support what our peers can and will create in Nepal!

Our generation has the benefit of relying on platforms such as Nepali Sansar that allows us to connect with larger networks both inside and outside of Nepal working on similar challenges around the world and tap into networks of capable Nepalis. This can only benefit skills, knowledge, and creativity growth. 

We hope that by sharing Doko’s experience on your platform,  like many other young entrepreneurs have shared theirs, we continue to encourage budding entrepreneurs to start something of their own. 

11. NSB: As a business entrepreneur, what exactly drove you to come up with such an environment-friendly business model? Do you have anything to say to upcoming/existing entrepreneurs who wish to work for society and start eco-friendly business initiatives?

Ashma Basnyat:  Social Business is a way by which we can take upon on issues prevalent in a developing economy like ours, which required a sustainable approach to tackle problems plaguing basic amenities such as a viable waste management system, which can benefit the larger mass of a society.

It’s about taking such challenging issues and working around them to find gaps in the system and create value through business model innovation. There’s always so much to work around for the people at the bottom of the pyramid in any part of the world, just need to make sure we are able to create customer demand and keep revenues flowing.

12. NSB: Overall, your organization stands as an example for women entrepreneurship in Nepal. Would you wish to speak something on ‘women for social change’? Any message to the Nepali Mahila?

Ashma Basnyat: Cultural expectations while oftentimes limiting should not be a reason not to try. Women are as equally as capable of being entrepreneurs, leaders, or whatever they choose to be.

The more we dare to step into different arenas and make our presence known the more likely change will follow. The more we are willing to take on these challenges, the more our skills and confidence will grow.

It is gratifying to be able to be a part of Doko’s efforts. It is also gratifying to be able to say Ashma and Shivani are some of the many women in this arena pushing for social change.

It is most gratifying for the entire Doko team to be part of a larger trend that will forge social growth, open doors, and serve as examples to other women and men who want to usher in social change.

January 30, 2019 |

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