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Several forward-thinking youths have found innovative ways to combat Nepal’s waste management problem, and in the process, are creating unique products.

Generally, every household tries to maximise the use of any and every product. And the ultimate option after its usage is dumping them to the scrapyard. But some creative minds thought of turning this last option into the first resource of a new creation.

At a time when waste management is a major problem in the country, many eco-conscious entrepreneurs are coming up with upcycling businesses and positioning it as a creative and sustainable solution to the problem. Adding an aesthetic value, upcycling companies such as Dhaasoo, Sagarmatha Pencil Udhyog, Taalo, Upcycle Nepal, Shailee Craft, Ecoorb Ventures, Tyre Treasures, etc. have garnered a good level of attention for the emerging eco-friendly and financially rewarding business in Nepal. The companies are producing different goods such as lamps, chairs, home decor, ornaments, souvenirs, etc. They clean, cut, modify, design and decorate discarded items and waste materials to create new products.

Emerging Upcycling Trend in Different Areas
Dhaasoo began when the term ‘upcycle’ was not a huge part of Nepal’s business landscape. Nitesh Sharma started this upcycling business as a novel job in the country in 2015. His company manufactures varieties of products such as hookahs, lamps, planters, bookshelves, desks, keyrings etc. from discarded glass bottles, cans, car parts, wires, etc.

Prior to that, two brothers, Shailesh Dhamala and Success Dhamala started Shailee Craft to upcycle the leftover bones and horns of buffaloes into different ornamental items such as buttons, pendants, earrings, souvenirs, bangles etc since 2013. 

Likewise, Tyre Treasure, which was established by Ojashwi Baidya and Loonibha Manandhar in 2017, is now a major player in turning discarded tyres into aesthetic furniture and tables. 

In the garment sector also, old clothes are being revived as laptop covers, wallets, keyrings, cushion covers, bags, cardholders etc by Pushpa Sthapit and Rajan Chakradhar, who established Upcycle Nepal Pvt Ltd in 2018.

Even outside the valley, waste paperis being upcycled by Sagarmatha Pencil Udhyog, a company founded by Nirmal Dahal in Jhapa in 2018. Likewise, Green Road Waste Management of Pokhara has constructed sustainable roads in Sathe, Pokhara and Nayabazar, Kirtipur from plastic wastes for the first time in Nepal. Bimal Bastola and his team of four members made it possible to transform plastic waste of noodles, chocolates, polythene etc. into durable lanes in 2018. 

Different from Recycling
Upcycling entrepreneurs note that while reusing old items has long been a common trend in several households, the upcycling trend is just emerging. Rajan Chakradhar of Upcycle Nepal Pvt Ltd clarifies, “At home, people recycle the old clothes by using them for cleaning purposes but we upcycle them by turning it into a new product possessing its own value.” 

Treasure Tyre’s Baidya also says that it takes more time, resources, effort, and energy to recycle the tyres as compared to upcycling them. She explains, “Tyres are made up of synthetic material and so they are sturdy, bouncy, and durable in nature.” She explains that during the recycling process, the original quality of rubber gets degraded and distorted while extracting certain portions or breaking it down. But the quality remains the same when one upcycles them. She further says that there are no recycling plants in the country to recycle such waste.

Minimising Import
Creating value and money from waste is itself one impactful aspect of the upcycling business. Annually, Sagarmatha Pencil Udhyog made a turnover of around Rs 2.5 million by upcycling waste papers as pencils, according to the company’s founder Nirmal Dahal. It manufactures over 630,000 pencils per year for its major market places - Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari. Dahal says the company collects around 3,000 kg of waste paper in a month from schools, waste paper collectors, different organisations etc. As such, the upcycling business reduces the number of waste paper that goes to the landfill. 

He says, “There are more than four million pencil users in the country and thus there is a market for upcycling in our business.” He believes that the upcycling business can save the country’s economy from importing such items which can be manufactured here. Other entrepreneurs also express similar sentiments about domestic production through the upcycling business.

A Green and Sustainable Business
The same waste which become pollutants if thrown away are turned into meaningful and usable products through upcycling. Tyre Treasure’s Baidya says that when the non-biodegradable tyres are burnt in brick kilns, they emit harmful toxic fumes and chemical smoke. Even when they are disposed of at river banks or scrapyards, they release chemicals that affect the environment. Baidya says, “Upcycling tyres is the cleaner way of managing tyres. We create handicraft, interior decors, furniture etc from tyres without cutting and breaking them as they release chemicals. We mostly use organic materials to design and develop new creations.” 

Green Road Waste Management’s Bastola also shares that the plastic for road construction is heated to its softening point because of which harmful gases are not emitted. According to him, the same plastic makes the binding between bitumen and aggregate stronger, enhancing the road’s capacity to hold more loads. Since the aggregate will have a coating of plastics and bitumen layer, it has less chance of becoming damaged by water. So, the green roads are less susceptible to developing potholes and are three times more durable than ordinary roads. 

Public’s Interest in Customised Goods
Upcycling companies have also become a suitable choice for customers who prefer design and art. Most upcycling companies customise their products as per the order of the customer. So, the companies keep on experimenting with new creations. At the time of writing, Dhaasoohas sold more than 600 varieties of upcycled products, each with its own unique design. He says, “Customers believe that we can make customised products. So, if they want different, unique products that fit their budget, they approach us.” However, when customers cancel their orders, it results in the loss of time, raw materials, effort and creativity. 

Many upcycling entrepreneurs say that convincing people about the utilities and pricing of upcycled products is a major challenge. They realise that customers tend to compare the cost of upcycled products with the readymade imported products. They share that they have to compete with readymade products which are of low quality. Meanwhile, they are also not sure if their new upcycled products will sell or not. Baidya shares, “Though upcycled products are a bit expensive, they are reasonable considering the cost of production and the effort.”  

Highlighting the crisis of human resources in the sector, Sharma shares, “Upcycling is not an industry which was already there from the beginning. So, there are only a few people dedicated to the upcycling industry.” He says that though the sector hires young people and provides them with training for seven months, there is no guarantee that they will be retained. Sharma focused on breaking the stereotypical career options available to people. Likewise, Bastola also shares that there are no policies encouraging investment in eco-friendly companies. 

For Shailee Craft, the scope for its upcycling business is shrinking as compared to the early days. The company’s founder Success Dhamala shares, “Our products are preferred mostly by spiritual people and garment industries. But these days, the number of such people is decreasing. Our products for garment industries like buttons are being replaced by imported plastic buttons which are available at cheap prices.”

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