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Declare Nepal Himalaya a Plastic Free Zone

A campaign to ban plastic bags & mineral water bottles on all trekking routes of Nepal

         Like many lodge owners in Nepal, Hem Bahadur from Chomrung has greatly benefited from a decade of increasing numbers of trekkers visiting the Annapurna Sanctuary.  He has improved the quality of his lodge with the addition of hot shower and proper toilets, but Hem also realized that he could not do anything with the plastic bags and mineral water bottles accumulating in his backyard, littering the village, the river and the fields all around. So quietly, he and 2 other colleagues from Chomrung 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 too 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 NGO Plastic Free Himalaya has launched a national campaign aimed at putting Nepal Himalayas on the map as a plastic (bags and mineral water bottles) free zone.

         Hem Bahadur : “We survived centuries without plastic bags and bottles, no? As for the 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 they have promoted useful rules inside their boundaries for a more responsible tourism. Therefore, Greenaction 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 40% 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 Lomanthang.  I quote from memory: “Tourists, please respect our pristine nature and protect our environment: don’t litter, re-use, recycle.”  But 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 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 Sanctuary area since 12 years.

         Today, like in Chomrung and more recently in Ilam region, local communities have taken it upon themselves to implement a ban on plastic. But on the national level, the ban should be implemented  the government with the support of all stakeholders of the tourist industry especially the National Parks and 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…”

Jérome Edou 
& Adhish Gurung