Nepal is a country of contrasts. The natural beauty truly is stunning – from the towering mountains to the green jungle and savannah of the Terai. Alongside this delicious smorgasbord for the eyes lies a less appetising sight: trash. Unfortunately, Nepal still doesn’t have a comprehensive waste management system and, like in many countries where plastic has only recently replaced biodegradable packaging, there is a lot of rubbish piled up in certain areas. While this problem is not limited to Nepal, what can we travellers do to travel more responsibly and minimise our pollution footprint in Nepal?
Unbox at home
If you’re buying new things for your trip, be sure to leave any unnecessary packaging in your home country. There, the waste management system is likely to be better equipped for recycling the waste. Even better, buy second-hand items or borrow what you need – this will reduce the packaging as well as the unseen waste associated with new consumer products (which can be 70x that of what we actually throw out ourselves!)
If you pack it in, pack it out
If possible, take waste back home with you where it can be appropriately dealt with. This is even more important for toxic things like camera batteries or e-waste, which might end up polluting Nepal’s amazing environment and fertile soil. Even better, travelling with a set or two of rechargeable batteries would reduce that waste.
Refill your water bottle
One of the biggest sources of plastic pollution in Nepal is water bottles. On treks, it is often possible to buy boiled water, but this is not available on all treks, and some people do not feel comfortable drinking this. In Kathmandu you can often find places to refill drinking water from 20 litre water dispensers that are refilled and reused.
While it is really important to ensure the water you drink is safe, why not treat your own water? There are variety of options: a water filter or UV filter (bringing these from home is more reliable than purchasing them in Nepal, to ensure they’re genuine), or water purification tablets/drops (such as Piyush, Katadyne) from supermarkets, pharmacies, and trekking shops. The latter are cheap but can leave a slight chlorine flavour in your water. If you treat water yourself, you can be certain it’s properly treated and you won’t need to buy a plethora of plastic bottles.
Come prepared… and prepared to say “no”
A great travel waste-minimisation kit for Nepal includes:
- a reusable coffee cup
- tupperware/tiffin box for takeaways and leftovers
- cloth shopping bag(s)
- cloth napkin (can use as a napkin, or to wrap or carry things)
- reusable straw
- refillable water bottle
- water filter.
If someone is in the process of giving you some unnecessary waste like a plastic bag or straw, you can simply say “pardaina” (Nepali for “I don’t need it”).
Despite their small size, micro-plastics are a massive concern. This is because they can literally end up anywhere – drinking water sources, oceans, beaches and seafood. Some products that contain “microbeads” are face wash, body wash, chewing gum, and toothpaste. Then there are micro-plastic fibres that rub off synthetic clothing during washing, and likewise end up anywhere and everywhere.
To avoid micro pollution, check product labels carefully and try to buy clothing made from natural fibres (e.g. cotton, wool, silk, hemp, linen) as much as possible. If buying wool in Nepal, you can do a ‘burn test’ to see whether it is real wool or a synthetic acrylic fibre.
If you need technical gear that is only available in synthetic fibres, research shows that high-quality gear sheds fewer fibres than low-quality fabrics, so try to buy originals rather than low-quality knock-offs.
Again, you could also avoid pollution associated with buying new by borrowing from a friend or hiring equipment at a low cost from trekking shops and companies in Thamel.
Flying also creates pollution in the form of carbon emissions, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change. Having said that, travel can be beneficial both for individual travellers (to expand their worldviews and life experiences) and communities (by providing income to Nepali communities).
One way to reduce carbon emissions from travelling is to take longer, but less frequent, overseas holidays. So save up your leave and take an epic long trip to Nepal!
Another way is to use public transport in-country as much as possible, rather than individual cars or planes.
Finally, consider off-setting your carbon emissions through a certified carbon offset scheme. Although carbon offsets are not perfect for a number of reasons, they are definitely better than nothing!
Remember, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about increasing the actions and choices that contribute to less pollution. Each one of these will leave Nepal more beautiful for future generations.
Article by Florence Reynolds.
Top image: Dhilung Kirat/Flickr