Mountains of Waste
With a large number of tourists visiting the Himalayas every year, there is also an increase in heaps of garbage that is damaging the splendor of the mighty mountains.
The Himalayas, without a shadow of doubt, are one of the most beautiful tourist spots in the world. From snowcovered peaks to breathtaking hill stations and valleys to awe-inspiring flora and fauna to the tranquil aura surrounding the entire region, the Himalayas are surely a glimpse of heaven on earth. They are popular for their scenic beauty and are also home to some of the loftiest peaks in the world, including the famous Mount Everest.
Every year, the Himalayas attract thousands of tourists from all over the world who come to the region for sightseeing and trekking. Living in magnificent surroundings and waking up to such a spectacular panorama is certainly a dream
come true for any tourist. The images of the Himalayas that appear online, in magazines and on television are enough to convince anyone that no place could be more wonderful than this.
Sadly, however, for the people of Nepal, the country’s pride – the incredibly striking mountain ranges – are fast becoming a rubbish dump. The high levels of pollution are damaging the splendor of the mighty Himalayas.
According to estimates, around 35,000 tourists, including expedition teams, visit the Everest region every year. With the ever-growing number of tourists in the mountains there is also an increase in heaps of beer and soft drink cans, empty mineral water bottles and other waste material. Tourists throw litter without thinking twice about its impact on the environment in the long run.
Some decades back, there was hardly any garbage on the mountains. But in recent years, every village in the Himalayas can be seen littered with plastic all the way up to the Everest base camp. This is because previously, there were no more than a score of mountaineering expeditions and less than a hundred trekkers visiting the Himalayas every year. Today, the annual number of expeditions has grown to over 200 and of trekkers to over 50,000. To top it off, there have been no arrangements in Nepal to treat the waste as there is no developed recycling industry there.
This is not all. Like in many other parts of the world, the Himalayas are also facing the negative effects of global warming. Over the years, wrong models of development, an improper use of resources, changing lifestyles and modern consumerism has led to environmental pollution as well as resource depletion. As a result, the glaciers in the Himalayas are rapidly melting. This impact of global warming in the Himalayas will have devastating consequences both for the environment and the human population.
In order to tackle this situation and to lessen the alarming intensity of environmental pollution, a ‘Zero Waste Himalayas’ campaign was initiated by groups and individuals across the Himalayan Mountain region. The campaign was launched with the technical guidance of Thanal – an environmental organization based in Kerala, India, that works for the alleviation of problems related to public interest, particularly environment, agriculture and livelihood generation.
Started in 2010, the ‘Zero Waste Himalayas’ initiative is aimed at promoting ethical, efficient and economic resource use and resource recovery in the Himalayan region. Its main aim is to make the Himalayas waste-free and make Nepal plasticfree. The campaign has attracted people from all walks of life, including native Nepali people, tour operators, government officials, mountaineering experts and environment representatives from across the globe. The initiative calls for an urgent need to devise a waste management strategy to achieve its goals.
According to research conducted by the Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre (SWMTSC) in Nepal, about 170 metric tones of waste is generated annually in the Mount Everest region. Out of this, plastic accounts for 21 percent of the waste, paper and cardboard 22 percent, metal and glass 13 percent, textiles four percent and foodstuffs, human waste and bodies account for the remaining..
The poor management of waste and the excessive use of plastic bags pose a serious risk to the environment as well as public health in the country.
Though the campaign was started with great enthusiasm and fervor, there were a number of challenges – both on the macro and the community level – that had to be tackled first. For instance, when seen at a macro level, Nepal has faced political instability for decades and hence waste management has never been a priority for the establishment. Similarly, there was an absence of proper laws or policies that could tackle environmental issues and neither were there any punishments for the violation of environmental laws.
Another big hurdle was the lack of funding for environmental initiatives. At a micro level, issues such as lack of information and awareness of environmental concerns, lack of access to TV or radio or other media due to poverty and lack of integrated voices in civil society about environment etc., hindered the campaign from its very outset.
However, through various seminars, conferences and activities, the initiative addressed the challenges and formulated solutions from time to time. Since its inception in 2010, the ‘ Zero Waste Himalayas’ campaign has continued with full zeal and enthusiasm. Every year, the campaigners hold various activities and continue to work to make the issue of waste and climate change in the Himalayan region a global priority and summon more organizations and individuals who can commit to learning and taking action towards making the Himalayas a waste-free region.