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Escaping a Rubbish Life

Safety equipment, health insurance and education are three of the practical ways we’re helping waste pickers in Nepal. And by building respect and recognition for this ‘untouchable’ profession, we’re making an even bigger difference.

Completed Project

The Challenge

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.


  • Rubbish dumps are breeding grounds for disease. Waste workers are exposed to toxic substances, broken glass, contaminated needles and faecal 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.
  • 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.
  • waste pickers in Nepal are seen as the lowest of the low, treated like rubbish because they work with rubbish.

“My day begins at 5.30am waste picking. 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. I want to do something better with my life.”

Asmita Khandal – 12-years-old, Kathmandu


The Ingenious Solution

We’re giving waste pickers access to safety equipment, health insurance and education, and building entrepreneurial skills. We’re improving their wellbeing by working with community groups. Together, we’re building respect and recognition for the contributions they make to the solid waste management sector in Nepal.

  • First aid boxes and training on how to use them for immediate treatment.
  • Water and sanitation improvements go hand-in-hand with raising awareness of better health practices such as hand washing.
  • Training people on handling hazardous waste and providing safety equipment like boots, gloves, masks, coats, trousers and hats
  • Setting up health care schemes in collaboration with community hospitals.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 getting 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.

“I’m saving money after the training on savings and entrepreneurship. I’ve learned that there are many opportunities in this occupation and I’ve been able to expand and make more money from it.”

Dipendra Kusle – Door-to-door household waste collector, Kathmandu

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