Published in Republica, 6th May 2016
Published in Republica, 6th May 2016
A campaign to ban plastic bags & mineral water bottles
on all trekking routes of Nepal
‘’Water is a natural resource of Nepal and it should be free.
Therefore it’s a total non-sense to bring water
from the cities to the mountains !’’
Mahabir PUN, Himanchal Education Foundation
Like many lodge owners in Nepal, Hem Bahadur from Chomrung has greatly benefited from a decade of increasing numbers of trekkers visiting the Annapurna region of Nepal. He has improved the quality of his lodge with the addition of hot showers and proper toilets, but Hem also realized that plastic bags and mineral water bottles accumulating in his backyard were not sustainable, littering the village, the river and the fields all around. So quietly, he and 2 other colleagues from Chomrung Village convinced the local lodge association to ban the sale and the use of mineral water bottles in their area. The ban has been successfully running for 12 years.
Plastic single-use bags and mineral water bottles are among the worst polluters in mountain environments: they take a few hundred years to dissolve (if they ever do); they are hazardous for human health, cattle and wildlife and it ‘s close to impossible to recycling plastic in remote mountainous areas while they are easily avoidable. Realizing the urgency to protect Nepal’s pristine Himalayas from this plastic pollution and inspired by the Chomrung Experience, a group of Nepali activists from the non for profit organization ‘’Plastic Free Himalaya’’ launched in 2013 a national campaign aimed at putting Nepal Himalayas on the world map as a plastic (bags and mineral water bottles) free zone.
In the words of Hem Bahadur : “We survived centuries without plastic bags and bottles, no? As for the water, instead of plastic bottled water, we sell to trekkers boiled or filter water and we actually make more – and clean – profit! This is sustainable !”
The implementation of such a ban should be the responsibility of the National Parks or Conservation Areas that cover most trekking areas. These two entities collect entry fees from all foreign visitors to protect the environment and have promoted useful rules inside their boundaries for a more responsible tourism. Therefore, Plastic Free Himalaya is calling for the next logical step which is a ban on all single use plastic bags and mineral water bottles as has been implemented in most National Parks worldwide and in neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan or Sikkim (India).
Today the concept of “sustainable tourism” is on every travel brochure, every website, every advertisement. “Sustainable” means a responsible management of both natural and human resources, ‘’the capacity to support, maintain and ensure an increase of visitors on the long term in the best possible conditions’’. If we want the trekking industry of Nepal to be sustainable, to be here for the long term and to provide local employment that would keep youth in villages, it is time for the Government and its agencies to take a radical stance on plastic. Yes, ‘’visit Nepal once is not enough” as Nepal Tourist Board advertising goes, but to make sure that tourists will come back, the government should provide basic infrastructures – safe airports and planes, roads, electricity, water – while the Parks and tourist entrepreneurs should provide clean and safe food and lodging for trekkers AND for porters, as well as a clean environment. Those are the minimal requirements for Nepal to keep enjoying today’s 35% of returning visitors, a huge asset for the country.
For the trekking industry, the real question is “how a village of a few hundred households could sustain an increasing inflow of visitors and manage its waste?”
According to experts, on average, 50% of wastes are organic and could be composted while aluminum cans and tins can be recycled since they have a real market value. But how do we dispose of plastic bags and bottles that will still be around a few hundred years ?While traveling in Mustang a couple of years ago, I was impressed by the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP) signboard on the main courtyard of the remote former capital Lomanthang. I quote from memory: “Tourists, please respect our pristine nature and protect our environment: don’t litter, re-use, recycle.” But just around the corner, just along the wall of the ancient city, laid a huge dumping site with a horrendous smell. What should be done? Isn’t it time to take drastic action? Or should we just wait for the waste to pervade the entire ancient city and for the tourists to desert this outstanding tourist destination?
Of course, banning plastic bags and bottle will not solve all problems of waste management in the mountains but it will be a first step in the right direction, showing tourists and local populations that preserving the environment is possible, does not cost much, that tourism could be a sustainable business. Tourists, if informed in advance of the ban, are ready to abide by the rule as they have done in the Annapurna Sanctuary area since 12 years.
Today, like in Chomrung and more recently in Ilam and in Myagdi regions, local communities have taken upon themselves to implement a ban on plastic. But on the national level, the ban should be implemented by the government with the support of all stakeholders of the tourist industry, especially the National Parks, ACAP, etc.
This simple measure would greatly enhanced Nepal’ image abroad and definitely help promote Nepal as a unique adventure and green destination. As Hem puts it: “Following the natural flow of rivers, we should start banning plastic from the top of the mountains to slowly go towards the plains…”
After years of lobbying, the Government of Nepal has finally banned plastic shopping bags in the Kathmandu Valley, on Nepali New Year 2072 (April 14, 2015). A great move of course but unfortunately Nepal was struck by a terrible earthquake on April 25 of the same year and the whole country was once again overwhelmed by huge amount of plastic from rescue and emergency packages…
April 2016 – www.plasticfreehimalaya.org
Jérome Edou is a French national who has been residing in Nepal for three decades. A Writer, a specialist of the Tibetan culture and an enthusiastic trekker, he has along these years visited most regions of the Himalayas on foot, from Bhutan to Nepal and Ladakh.
As an activist for nature preservation, he has been very involved in Nepal in lobbying for the preservation of the Himalaya and for the development of a sustainable tourism. He is a senior advisor to the campaign ‘’Plastic Free Himalaya’’.
On June 29th 2014, Plastic Free Himalaya at Rato Bangala School participated at the workshop with School Leaders to develop “Environment Friendly School” organized by Ministry of Urban Development, Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre, Executive Director Dr. Sumitra Amatya and co- organizer Rato Bangala School. There were more than hundreds of school’s representative participation including some NGOS and concerned Government Bodies. It was a successful workshop that created a great opportunity to exchange the ideas of the best practices for Eco- friendly environment at school. In the discussion of action plan it was mention and agreed to make their school a ”plastic bag and bottle free zone” and also agreed not to allow any students to bring packaged dry food items to eat in their lunch.
Before starting the workshop we had a field trip lead by Donatella Lorch to observe what have we done to our Bagmati river.
As the purpose of the workshop is to develop the strategy in coordination with various school representative of Kathmandu Valley for waste management as well as waste free zone school and the one who successfully achieve the motto will be rewarded by a symbolic Flag which is not as easy to get as concluded by Dr. Sumitra Amatya.
It is a beginning and we hope we all together in collaboration can bring drastic change into ‘clean and green’ nation. As the current scene of Bagmati river above shown in the picture is alarming us towards the waste Tsunami, so it’s time to act now though we are already late. ******************************************************************************************************
We thank you for reading this newsletter and request you to stay in touch using our facebook like page- www.facebook.com/bagfreemalaya. Please send us your opinions and suggestions and help us spread the message to carry your own bottles and reusable bags.
Hem Bahadur Gurung, 52, is a native of Chomrong, Annapurna Circuit. He is the owner of Excellent View Top lodge. He recalls how he started his career as an owner of a small tea-shop. As a child, he grew up in a family that still runs Himalayan Guest House. Since childhood, he was aware that income from tourism is important not just for him and his family but his whole village. It was true that the large number of tourists arriving in his village to see the breath-taking view of Mt. Annapurna brought with them plastic waste that could not be recycled or processed in their area in environmentally friendly ways.
One most important necessity for all tourist trekkers is water. Water packed in plastic bottles and sold with a price as mineral water is a well selling commodity for the villagers however the plastic bottles in which they are packed polluted the nearby environment. Fifteen years from now, he and his best chums Gunja Man Gurung and Najar Man Gurung started raising awareness about the issue of plastic pollution in their area. If they respected their profession, as lodge owners, they had to take some action to stop their beautiful environment from pollution.
Since, the last twelve years they have successfully banned the sale of mineral water bottles packed in plastic bottles in their area. He recalls, “At one time, I sold 80 boxes of mineral water bottles from my own lodge alone during a peak tourist season. There are 55 lodges in Chomrong. Imagine how many bottles sold in all those lodges in just one season! Those bottles don’t need to be here because fresh delicious water flows in the rivers that form from melting snow right here itself, why do we need to buy water packed in plastic bottles somewhere else?” As put it : “ We survived centuries without plastic bags and bottles. As for the water, we sell to trekkers filtered water and we actually make more – and clean – profit! This is sustainable! ”
When asked about his struggles to launch the campaign he said that at first the people would sell water secretively because it sold for a higher price than the market and meant direct profit. But nowadays, people of Chomrong are much aware that they should not sell mineral water bottles because their environment is priceless.”They seem to have realized that it is so much easier to keep their village clean and pollution free because they don’t need to carry all that plastic waste down the mountain” says Hem Bahadur Gurung.
Tourism is a vital industry in Nepal. The effort of Hem and his friends is worthy of praise because it is people like them who help to keep the beautiful scenic Himalayan environment as it is for future generations of proud Nepalese and eager tourists. We are hopeful that the whole Annapurna circuit trail bans the sale plastic bottles and instead installs water filters to facilitate the tourist populations. We must realize that sustainability is key and the effort of one individual is powerful enough to bring a mighty change. As a conclusion, he added: “ Following the natural flow of rivers, we should stop using plastic from the top of the mountains towards the plains.”
February 14, 2014
Nepal government through its concerned agencies should :
NEPAL TREKKERS CODE OF CONDUCT
During your trekking in Nepal Himalayas
- Avoid the purchase or the use of mineral water bottles and plastic bags.
- Bring your own water bottle and purifying schemes – pills, liquid, UV – or drink filtered or boiled water available in lodges.
- Bring back all your non-organic items such as batteries, aluminum paper and cans, plastic containers (shampoo, etc.), cigarette tips.
- To protect rivers, purchase anorganic soap made in Nepal, excellent and easy to wash body, hair and clothes.
Note : more than 50 % of mineral water brands in Nepal do not match WHO drinking water standards.
On January 29th, 2014, the Institute of Crisis Management Studies (ICMS), Plastic Free Himalayas and International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducted a policy dialogue symposium on ‘Declare Nepal Himalayas Plastic Bag and Bottle-Free Zone’. The objective of this initiative was to promote a policy recommendation to manage the use of plastic bags and bottles in Nepal’s National parks and trekking areas. Chaired by Dr. Ram Thapaliya and Lt. Gen.(Retd) Bala Nanda Sharma of ICMS in two different sessions, more than 100 participants from a variety of backgrounds and concern stakeholders supported the event, with presentations and speeches.
Representatives of all stakeholders attended the symposium: government agencies by Dr. Sumitra Amitaya (Executive Director of Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre), Mr. Govinda Prasad Kharel (Assistant Secretary for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment) ; foreign embassies with Mrs. V.Corteval (France) and Mr. S.Velichkin (Russia) ; experts such as Dr. Bernard Amadei (US Science Envoy); scholars with Prof. Surendra Kafle (Vice chancellor Nepal Academy of Science and Technology) and Mr. Ram Thapaliya (Chairman of ICMS) ; as well as representatives from the National Parks, TAAN, various NGOs and International Mountaineering Association, Mr.Ang Tsering Sherpa.
The symposium concentrated on opening the dialogue on waste management in mountain (trekking, expeditions, National Parks) areas on :“How to address waste management issue and the basic needs of local populations, while facing an increasing number of trekkers/visitors and preserving the pristine and fragile Himalayan ecosystem for the future?”
A wide consensus was reached on suggesting that a ban of any form of plastic bags and bottles in trekking areas was the only way to preserve the environment, promote sustainable tourism and development for the long term since recycling, reusing or reducing would not be feasible in remote mountain areas due to :
- absence of recycling facilities and the unavailability of such plants in a foreseeable future
- huge cost of campaigns such as Cleaning Everest
- vain initiatives like cleaning the Bagmati River as long as the problem is not addressed at the source i.e. the mountains.
Together with the ban of plastic in National Parks, recommendations were made towards :
1 – the compulsory rules for all lodges to provide filtered water to travellers within National Parks and Conservation areas.
Such filters are now available at very affordable prices in Nepal
2 – the implementation of a code of conduct for all trekkers /visitors in the National Parks
3 – Promote local initiatives such as manufacturing jute or cotton bags to be sold to visitors
4 – Initiate awareness campaigns focusing on schools, women associations, local communities
Such ban has already been done by local initiatives in some areas of Nepal Himalayas :Chhomrung to Annapurna Sanctuary, Myagdi Community lodges trek and Ilam region (for plastic bags).
Therefore the symposium concluded that the implementation of such recommendations would be a win-win situation for Nepal’s environment, sustainable tourism, local communities and the best way to enhance Nepal image abroad as a Green Destination.