International Journal of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Advanced Technology Vol 1 Special No 1 (2020) 97–103
Risk of COVID-19 for Household Waste Workers in Nepal
Tara Prasad Kharel 1
1 Nepal Administrative Staff College
Corresponding Author: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 26 April 2020, Accepted 14 May 2020, Available online 14 May 2020
In the past, human civilization was based on the agricultural practices. Such society used to produce goods needed
for them by themselves due to which there was no dependency with others for the supplies required for them. The
gradual process of civilization made more people to move from rural to city areas due to industrial revolution (Wilson,
2007) and made more dependent in to industrial products due to which the interdependency with each other has also
been increased. The industrial products are provided in to packages which make the availability and piling of unusable
materials in consumer’s side. Such unusable materials are termed as wastes. According to Brunner and Rechberger
(2014), human activities are responsible mostly for the generation of the waste. More dynamic the society, more
interaction and activities occurs resulting to the increase in the waste.
While defining the waste, many scholars have used their understanding differently. According to White and Hindle
(1995), waste is the useless by product of human activities which physically available in the same useful product. In
different way, Basu (2009) defined wastes as any product or material which is useless to the producer and even to the
consumers. Cheremisinoff’s (2003) expression about waste points it as the result of inefficient production processes and
further argues that its continuous generation is a loss of vital resources.
Even though there have been many arguments about waste, any substance cannot be called as waste without
knowing its usability by others. Hence, Dijkema et al (2000) gave more clear definition of waste. According to them,
any material or substances can only be regarded as a waste if the owner (or producer) labels it as waste. The waste for
an individual may be useful for another individual.
The coronavirus is pandemic in the world and Nepal has also been in complete lock down condition from more than 1
month. The majority of waste workers in Nepal represent the poor economic individuals or the migrant employee from
different parts of India. This study involved the comparative analysis of Solid Waste Management Act, Guidelines on
Nepal with field observation of three different areas of Kathmandu Valley. The act, rules, guidelines has been analysed
as secondary data sources and compared with field observation. The study identified the high risk of exposure of waste
workers and waste picker towards coronavirus. The analysis further suspected the retransmission of the coronavirus to
the community from waste workers/pickers to the community making it difficult to control. The study revealed the fact
that there has been proper awareness of symptoms and mode of transmission among waste workers/pickers but due to
unavailability of safety means, they are more vulnerable. This study established the fact that the Government’s priority
to health sector alone cannot reduce the COVID-19 vulnerability if waste management sector is not prioritized equally.
Keywords: : Waste Management, Waste workers, COVID-19, Coronavirus
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Tara Prasad Kharel et al / International Journal of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Advanced Technology Vol 1 Special No 1 (2020) 97–103
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an acute respiratory disease, caused by a novel coronavirus called
SARS-CoV-2 (Guo et al., 2020). World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 epidemic as a
public health emergency of international concern. It has spread throughout most of the countries gaining worldwide
attention and public health emergency.
According to Guo et al. (2020), bat has been suspected as natural host of virus origin, and SARSCoV-2 might be
transmitted from bats via unknown intermediate hosts to infect humans. According to them, human-to-human
transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurs mainly between family members, including relatives and friends who intimately
contacted with patients or incubation carriers. Furthermore, they argue that it has been originated as the epidemic of
unknown acute respiratory tract infection which broke out first in Wuhan, China, since 12 December 2019. Now, it has
been transferred from human to human in the community-wide irrespective of family members, relatives and friends
creating the pandemic situation.
World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) says that coronavirus on the surface can easily be cleaned with common
household disinfectants that will kill the virus. Furthermore, it says that the COVID-19 virus can survive for up to 72
hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard.
As in the industrial age of now, plastics, stainless steel, copper, cardboard etc. are the major packaging materials and
are produced as wastes in industrial and domestic uses. The susceptibility of coronavirus infection to the waste worker
Many developed countries have made and practiced their own standards for the collection and disposal of the waste
generated which is not found practiced in the underdeveloped and developing countries like Nepal. Because of the
pandemic of coronavirus, many countries, including both developed and underdeveloped, are in locked down condition
creating medical emergencies. Major importance has been given to the prevention of coronavirus transmission,
management and cure of the COVID-19 patients. Their major resources are targeted towards healthcare emergency. The
personal protective equipment (PPE) has been being compulsory for health-workers and security team who come
directly or indirectly in contact to the coronavirus patients or suspicious persons.
There has been less concerns for the workers working in the management of the wastes produced from households.
As majority of the population has been in home quarantine all over the world, it is immensely important to care about
the transmission of coronavirus to waste workers and retransmission from them to the community.
This study has been confined with the concern of coronavirus transmission to the waste workers from the wastes and
retransmission to the community based on the secondary literatures. This study does not cover the biological,
pathological, clinical and sociological aspects of the coronavirus transmission to the waste workers. In this study, the
concern has been made to analyze the guidelines of WHO, National waste management rules and regulations and other
documents related to the management of epidemic diseases and their control.
For this, the key questions explored through this study have been: 1) What is the provision of prevention of epidemic
diseases including coronavirus in national and WHO documents? 2) How vulnerable are waste workers in Nepal from
coronavirus? and 3) How much the community is in the risk of coronavirus retransmission from the coronavirus
positive waste worker? These questions are answered by using secondary data as far as available.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: Section 2 presents the Literature Review, Section 3 Presents Research and
Methodology, Section 4 presents Results and Discussion and Conclusion, Limitations and Directions for Future
Research are given in Sec. 5.
2 Literature Review
2.1 Waste Management
As the population increases, its dependency on natural resources also increases. Because of the increased
population, industrialization and consumption, the production of waste also increases. The waste production
(generation) is found to be directly proportional to the increase in population and industrialization. In pre-historic time
to pre-industrialization time, the waste management was not a problem (Giusti, 2009). But when the continuous
production of such waste increases, there will be increase in the pollution or problem to the environment (Marchettini et
al., 2007). Hence, Ghiani et al. (2014) argued that, a proper organization of solid waste management has become an
essential task in order to safeguard the environment. Basu (2009) argues that the processing of waste is very essential to
safeguard the public health.
Tara Prasad Kharel et al / International Journal of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Advanced Technology Vol 1 Special No 1 (2020) 97–103
Tsai (2007) argues that waste management is the collection, transportation, processing, recycling or disposal of
waste materials. According to Tchobanoglous et al. (1993) solid waste management is the process of safeguarding the
environment and the public by effective supervision and handling, keeping, collection, conveying, treatment and
disposal of waste. This idea has also been supported by Demirbas (2011) arguing that the main reason for managing
waste is ensuring the environment safety. Furthermore, Cheremisinoff (2003) believes in different forms of approach to
waste management based on characteristics and origin of wastes as industrial waste, municipal waste streams etc.
2.2 Solid waste management practices
As the characteristics of waste, concept and culture of waste management is different in different places and
countries, solid waste management practices also greatly varies across regions, countries and even cities/places within
country (Hoornweg, 2012). Many developed countries segregate the wastes and re-use, recycle for those which can be
reused or recycled. Other organic wastes are used to make compost and remaining is sent for safe disposal through
landfills. But in developing countries, according Giusti (2009), a large proportion of solid waste is disposed of on open
According to Hoornweg (2012), solid waste management in many developing countries is the responsibility of
both the municipal authorities and private sectors. In such countries, due to lack of solid waste sorting, all solid wastes
including electronic-wastes has been dumped on the same open grounds along with municipal waste (Needhidasan,
Samuel and Chidambaram, 2014).
2.3 Risk of exposure to solid waste collectors and waste pickers
Solid waste workers (collectors) are in continuous risk of exposure to solid waste. According to Abd El-Wahab
EW, et al (2014), such exposure can happen depending upon the level of protective ware, knowledge of risk, standards
and practices of waste sorting and equipment available for collection and sorting. Furthermore, they argued that, in
many developing countries, municipal waste is handled by workers with limited protective gear. According to Rachiotis
G, et al (2012), such waste handlers at very high risk of exposure in absence of waste sorting knowledge and lack of
In many developing countries, dumping sites are main source of economic livelihood to waste pickers.
According to Oguntoyinbo (2012), this process of picking waste adds the exposure to these people to many risks
including infection, respiratory complications from fumes etc. Such retrieved articles and food, if consumed by them or
even sold to market, puts either themselves or a huge population at risk.
In the editorial of International Journal of Occupational Safety and Health, Vol. 8 No. 2 (2018), Baral argues that
the waste materials can be dangerous not only for the waste workers but also general people by the high risk of illnesses
and dysentery, typhoid, fever, enteritis, cholera, diarrhea and respiratory problems to the mass population. According to
him, waste pickers collect plastics, paper, cardboard, wires, glass bottles, rubber materials, and sharp metals and
harmful electronic materials from landfill sites and garbage collection centre which can be risky for their health. Waste
pickers are facing specific risks in this pandemic with high exposure to germs and high proximity to other people as for
example, waste pickers handle materials, including medical waste that may be contaminated with coronavirus (WIEGO,
Research and Methodology
This study attempts to analyze the provision on Solid Waste Management Act and Rules of Nepal with current
corona pandemic situation. It also analyzes the related documents, guidelines by the Government of Nepal and WHO
guidelines. Then it tried to compare with exact field condition at three different places of Kathmandu Valley (Bouddha
area, Satdobato area and Gongabu area) where both municipal authorities and private sectors are working for waste
The research methods used in the study includes the desk review of literature from different sources. The research
study was based on secondary sources of data collection and field observation (including video reporting of media). The
available laws, guidelines and WHO guidelines along with advice for waste workers regarding coronavirus (COVID-
19) by Global Alliance of West Pickers has been analyzed to compare and document the global and national provision
with field status. Previous literature related to the topics from scientific journals, research reports, annual reports and
other relevant documents were studied.
Tara Prasad Kharel et al / International Journal of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Advanced Technology Vol 1 Special No 1 (2020) 97–103
4. . Results and Discussion
4.1 Solid Waste Management Act, 2068 (2011)
The Solid Waste Management Act, 2011 defines solid waste collection as the collection of solid waste from
such waste production site, house to house collection, sweeping, depositing, weed uprooting, waste materials from
public places, and collection of posters or pamphlets which are pasted without permission at public place. Similarly,
Section 6 of the Act, has made provision of segregating waste at least into organic and inorganic waste where waste
generators need to store the waste differently (for the ease of recycling and re-use) at the source until it gets collected.,
the waste should be segregated at the source according to its nature.
The article 4 of the act confirms the responsibility for the management of solid waste is of the local body (now
local government). Furthermore, the article 6 of this act explains about the segregation of solid waste being the
responsibility of the local body who shall prescribe to separate the solid waste into at least organic and inorganic
including different kinds at its source. Similarly, Article 7 of the act describes the discharge of solid waste mentioning
harmful waste or chemical waste shall not be discharged at solid waste collection centre or transfer centre. The reality,
as reported in media and as observed in field has found no such separation of the solid waste produced from households.
The solid waste produced from clinics and medical centres also found collected with household solid wastes which
ultimately increase the risk of inclusion of harmful and toxic wastes in waste collection. Unfortunately, if the
coronavirus contaminated solid waste has been found in the collection, then that might cause the transmission to the
waste collectors and waste pickers which latter may be retransmitted back to the community, if any asymptomatic case
of coronavirus has been found in the household or clinics.
4.2 Solid Waste Management Rules, 2070 (2013)
Rule 3 (1) of this rules describes the role of the Local Body (now local government) shall, while fixing
segregation at least of organic and non-organic solid waste at its source under Section 6, have to make management and
segregation of harmful or chemical waste separately. While in the field visit of these places and media reports also have
shown as there has been no such separation of the harmful wastes. As many of the coronavirus positive cases in Nepal
have no significant symptoms (or no any symptoms listed by WHO), there has been increasing risk of direct exposure
of COVID-19 to waste collectors and west pickers.
The rule 7, transportation of solid waste where solid waste should not be visible, should not fall out and no
seepage of liquid materials should be made, there should be no leach and odor coming out of the solid waste and solid
waste can be easily loaded and unloaded. But the field observation has found that wastes are exposed to the
environment directly, odor coming out from trucks loaded with solid waste and waste are not packed rather dispersed
inside the truck. The open exposure and not packing solid waste properly even carrying the waste more than the
capacity of the collection truck has increased the risk to the west pickers as well as to the community for exposure of
4.3 Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus (WHO Interim guidance 23
This interim guidance says, there are no studies on the survival of the COVID-19 virus in drinking-water or
sewage. Similarly, the main routes of transmission, as per interim guidance, are respiratory droplets and direct contact.
It says that person in close contact with an infected individual is at risk of being exposed to potentially infective
respiratory droplets and further droplets may also land on surfaces where the virus could remain viable making the
immediate environment of an infected individual as a source of transmission.
Based on the recent evidences, the interim guidance indicates that COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) survival on
surfaces is similar to that of SARS-CoV-1, with survival on surfaces ranging from 2 hours to 9 days. Furthermore it
explains the survival time depends on several factors (including the type of surface, temperature, relative humidity and
the strain of the virus).
The interim guidance further explains that the waste generated at home during quarantine, while caring for a
sick family member or during the recovery period should be packed in strong black bags and closed completely before
disposal. As per recent practice in Nepal, all coronavirus positive cases has been sufficiently treated at hospital. The
disposal of waste of such positive cases comes under healthcare waste management. But before the confirmation of the
case, people in Nepal are either in home self-quarantine or quarantine managed by local governments or communities.
There has been no segregation of waste found in the household waste which may include the droplets of individual
mixed in household waste before the individual has been confirmed by the hospital by swab test in PCR machine. This
ultimately makes waste collectors and waste pickers in risk.
The waste produced from household includes organic contents and non-organic including paper, glass bottles,
metals, plastic bottles, clothes etc. Such recyclable and reusable wastes are collected by informal waste pickers. Such
waste may contain the droplets of infected individual (indirectly by mixing or directly as it has been used by
asymptomatic infected person). Such materials are picked up by waste pickers using hand (without gloves and other
equipment) and collected to the scrap dealers. Some of usable materials are used by waste pickers themselves or sold in
informal market to the poor people. In both of the cases, there has been the high risk of exposure to the individual or
community towards droplets containing coronavirus.
4.4 Recommendations for Waste Pickers against Coronavirus (the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers)
The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (a networking process supported by WIEGO, among thousands of waste
picker organizations with groups in more than 28 countries covering mainly Latin America, Asia and Africa) has
published the Recommendations for Waste Pickers and their organizations against Coronavirus where the additional
advice for waste workers has been recommended as following:
People in high risk groups should not go to work. All others should work alone or in small groups maintaining
at least 1 meter (3 feet) of distance from each other. If workers are in groups, maintain the same groups day
after day so that if someone falls ill with COVID-19 it will be easier to identify and quarantine others who
Assume that any recyclable or waste materials that you are handling may be contaminated by the virus.
Coronaviruses are believed to live on surfaces for up to 9 days.
Avoid exposure to fumes or dust from waste materials, especially when waste is being dumped or compacted.
Workers with long hair should tie their hair back to avoid contaminating their face.
Wear gloves when working, but be aware that your gloves can easily contaminate surfaces and spread COVID-
19 if not handled properly. Avoid putting your gloves in your pocket (better to store them in a designated
plastic bag). Never touch your gloves to your face.
Wash hands with soap and water before and after collection routes and any time you remove your gloves.
Have a minimum 70% alcohol solution with you to sanitize hands when water and soap are not available.
Try to work in well-ventilated places only.
Regularly clean commonly touched surfaces with at least 70% alcohol or soap and water 12.
Use work gear, including gloves, and cover your skin and hair as much as possible while working. Remove
clothing (including shoes) and gear before entering your home.
Shower after finishing your route and wash your collection clothes and gear daily.
Do not sort materials meticulously and avoid touching and sorting materials that indicate illness, such as
tissues, masks, containers for medications like cough syrup, etcetera, or that appear to be marked as hazardous.
Avoid picking through materials you can’t properly see.
Establish systems of communication with your colleagues so that people can be informed if someone falls ill or
Establish protocols for if a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19.
The field observation found that both waste pickers and waste collectors are not properly wearing personal protective
equipment neither even they were able to maintain the distance of 1 meter. The discussion with them indicates that they
are aware of this fact but due to lack of proper equipment (work gear) and stressed working condition, they were unable
to maintain it. They do not have facility of cleaning their hands with 70% alcohol based sanitizer due to unavailability
in the market and failure of private sector employer to provide them. They have been working and staying in group
despite of the awareness of social distance informed by the government of Nepal. Many of waste pickers were found
outside of Nepal who came here in the search of livelihood opportunity to sustain their lives and livelihood of their
family. The poor economic condition of such waste workers and waste pickers, availability of rooms, drinking water
and foods does not let them to reside separately, afford the soap & water or hand sanitizer and even the work gears
(including personal protective equipment) during their work.
This study revealed that the legal provisions in the Act and Rule of Solid Waste Management in Nepal have
not been followed and monitor properly in the past and in this coronavirus pandemic situation too. Also, the interim
guidance of WHO and the advice of Global Alliance of Waste Pickers have not been followed properly. The poor
economic condition, lack of monitoring and support to the waste workers and waste pickers has made them in the risk
of high exposure of coronavirus in Nepal. Because of the unavailability and lack of practice of work gear (equipment,
gloves, boots etc.) properly required to fight against the coronavirus among the waste workers and waste pickers in
Nepal, they have high probability of being infected by the droplet infection of coronavirus positive individuals.
Similarly, open collection, disposal and scattered waste materials loaded trucks in the city area may make the area
susceptible to the coronavirus infection due to the liquid leakage and waste falling from transporting trucks. Finally, the
asymptomatic coronavirus cases in home quarantine may lead to massive transmission of the coronavirus to the waste
workers and waste pickers with high chance of retransmission to the community in massive level after the lockdown
overs. This study further suggests to the overall study of municipal waste segregation, collection and disposal for
helping waste workers, waste pickers and the community to be safe from the coronavirus pandemic.
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