PET Recycling Program in Nepal: How One Global Company Empowers Women

PET Recycling in Nepal

Disclosure: Coca-Cola sponsored my travel, accommodations and other expenses to Nepal. I attended as an independent blogger who is passionate about empowering women (especially in the outdoor industry). All opinions are my own.

Recycling in the United States is simple. We pay our recycling management to take our containers to the recycling plant. It’s a respectable job and we’re grateful we don’t have to take it on our own because let’s face it, it might not get done.

After reading Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”, a must-read book about a teenage boy who sees a future beyond counting recyclable garbage in a Mumbai undercity, I traveled to Nepal with Coca-Cola.

During my life, I’ve visited several developing countries, and seen individuals make a living from collecting recyclable waste. It’s a hard existence and many are discriminated against. Since there’s no formal recycling collection these workers play an essential role in keeping the environment clean.

Currently, Nepal has 17 tons of PET waste thrown onto the ground EVERYDAY. As an outdoor blogger who’s passionate about preserving and protecting the environment, I had some questions about Coca-Cola’s contribution to Nepal’s growing PET waste.

When I meet with Coca-Cola Bottlers Nepal Director, Puneet Varshney, he was quite open about their contribution to PET waste and their responsibility to create more efficient packaging and invest in recycling programs. He believes the best way to accomplish a green Katmandu is to work with government leaders to shape recycling policy and non-profits who support PET waste workers.

Pull Quote: The best way to accomplish a green Katmandu is to work with government leaders to shape recycling policy and non-profits who support PET waste workers.

The Coca-Cola Foundation and Coca-Cola Bottlers Nepal support the Himalayan Climate Initiative’s lead Nagar Mitra Program (Friends of the City)

PET Recycling

I had the chance to visit Friends of the City’s PET sorting center. I spent the day interviewing women and learning about their improved livelihood.

Before Friends of the City’s involvement, PET collectors were getting a very low return – just 12 rupees (1.5 pennies) for 40 bottles. There was no incentive to pick up PET waste, so it was left on the ground. Friends of the City made PET waste pick up and sorting fair and sustainable by paying twice the amount.  

In addition, most women in Nepal can’t work during regular hours so they like working odd hours. The sorting center provides flexible hours and a safe environment for women, many of whom were sold and trafficked as children because they are supervised by women. They reach out to uneducated women looking for work and provide jobs for them. Friends of the City wants to show how recyclable waste management is profitable.

One of the biggest contributions has been the enhanced social status of waste collectors. Something as simple as an official jacket helped overcome stereotypes. Citizen’s began to appreciate their efforts to keep the city clean. One worker said they’re not just looked down upon anymore.

While interviewing the president of Friends of the City, I was told how grateful they are for the continued financial and political support of Coca-Cola. When they asked the bottler to look into making their label and cap holders easier to take off they were presented with a new tool engineered from the local plant specifically to help them speed up the process.

We went out to give the new tool a try and found the women extremely capable at handling their razor blades better than the tool. But the tool demonstrated how continued conversations with their partner made them more aware of how they could make it easier to recycle their products waste.

Although, India recently banned importing PET waste from Nepal. Friends of the City and Coca-Cola are working with the government to find ways to move recycling forward in Nepal.  I support Coca-Cola’s efforts in this project because global companies should be socially responsible and accountable in the areas they function.

Next time you place your PET bottle in the bin to be recycled, be grateful for those who make it possible.

Coca Cola has a goal to economically empower 5 million women across their value chain by 2020 in developing countries. One way it’s able to do this is by providing opportunities for women to have sustainable and profitable PET recycling jobs.

What are your thoughts about how Coca Cola is managing its contribution to Nepal’s growing PET waste? What have they done well? What could they do better?

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