Aakash (name changed) went to Nagarkot the other day to enjoy a breath of fresh air. Somewhere along the road, he took a break to enjoy the beautiful view of the gentle hills and the old town of Bhaktapur. But the view was marred – with thick plumes of smoke billowing from several scattered locations.

Amongst the three districts of Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur already suffers from the worst air quality – mostly because Lalitpur and Kathmandu’s polluted air (dust and vehicular emissions) move east towards Bhaktapur before eventually leaving the valley. Brick kilns scattered across the outskirts of Bhaktapur do not help, and further deteriorate the city’s air quality. But, here something else was compounding the problem – neglected open burning of waste.

Neglected open burning of waste is one of the major contributors to poor air quality in the Valley – yet it continues unabashedly. Saroja Adhikari, Information Officer at the Department of Environment (DoE), points to a lack of awareness about proper ways of waste management.

“People usually burn waste instead of waiting for garbage collectors due to delays in waste collection or lack of facilities from local governments. Ironically, many people think burning waste is one of the best ways to manage waste”.

Meanwhile, just ahead of the paddy plantation season, traditional agricultural farmers also routinely deploy fire on their land to clear out the weed with hopes of a better yield.

“We urge people to complain about such burning but we seldom get any complaints and even when we do, frankly speaking, there is nothing strict we can do against it so we leave them with a warning,” said Adhikari. Besides asking for complaints, authorities aren’t doing much to raise awareness or control the problem.

Burning waste increases our exposure to PM 2.5 pollutants which can be extremely hazardous as it can bypass our nasal filtration system and be directly inhaled, causing respiratory diseases.

Similarly, unsegregated waste contains plastic and other materials that emit toxic chemicals. Therefore burning waste really exacerbates the problem of air pollution, informs environmentalist Bhusan Tuladhar.