As a child I often saw my mother pick up trash. It was a quiet action that showed me the importance of leaving a place better than I found it. I have picked up trash on beaches, mountains, and in cities for years, so I wasn’t surprised to see trash on trekking routes in Nepal. However, I was surprised at the huge amount of it, and I know many other trekkers are too. I was shocked to see porters throwing noodle wrappers on the ground as they swiftly hiked to their next destination, or the piles of beer bottles left at teahouses by trekkers.
The amount of trash in Nepal can feel insurmountable, but there are simple actions trekkers can take to reduce the impact of solid waste on mountain communities.
Rural mountainous communities in Nepal lack regular government service delivery, and solid waste management is no exception. During my first trek I picked up trash every day and threw out my haul at the teahouses where I stayed. My initial good feelings about this melted away when I later learned that locals often burn, bury, or throw trash in rivers because there is no way to remove it from the mountains.
Recent efforts to remove trash from the Solukhumbu region have garnered international attention, but it is only one place where organizations have focused clean-up efforts. The Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP) is a Kathmandu-based organization that focuses on improving the livelihoods of porters and guide,s and conserving Nepal’s environment. KEEP helped lead a clean-up at Dhaulagiri Base Camp in 2003, where they collected and recycled 3000 kg of trash.
Though large-scale cleanup efforts are helpful, they are also expensive and infrequent, so it is important to tackle this issue on an individual basis. In general, people in mountain communities tend to have more eco-friendly practices than city dwellers, but efforts to change behavior and reduce litter are lacking in Nepal.
Here are some practical ways trekkers can help reduce trail trash now and in the future.
- Consumption of plastic and glass items in the mountains often results in those items being left behind. Use reusable water bottles and refrain from buying drinks in glass bottles.
- Do not leave anything, including gear, in the mountains.
- Use the Litterati app or a simple spreadsheet to record trash you have picked up and the brand of the item. Data scarcity about rural waste management is an obstacle to understanding waste management problems. Clean Up Nepal is one such organization attempting to record and raise awareness of the impact of litter in Nepal.
- If you hire a porter or guide, let them know that you value reducing litter.
- When you pick up trash, let fellow trekkers, guides, and porters know about your efforts on the trail and via social media. On a recent trek in the Annapurna area, I saw a trekker throw trash on the ground so I asked him if he would mind giving it to me instead, so I could bring it back to Pokhara. Though surprised, he gave me the trash and thanked me for keeping the trail clean. KEEP sells trash bags at their Thamel office but you can also bring your own.
- Make a game out of environmental stewardship and go plogging on your next trek! (What’s plogging!? Jogging+picking up trash).
The challenges of waste management in the mountains require policy and societal changes to permanently reduce litter levels. KEEP trains guides, porters, and trekkers about their responsibilities to preserve Nepal’s environment and other such educational efforts may help even more. Regardless of nationality or the amount of time someone stays in Nepal, it is essential for each of us to preserve this wilderness for generations to come.
Article by Elena Swartz
Top image: Isaac KD/Flickr