Policy Dialogue Symposium: Declare Nepal Himalayas Plastic Bag, Bottle-Free Zone
On 29 January 2014, the Institute of Crisis Management Studies (ICMS), Plastic Free Himalayas and International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducted a policy dialogue symposium: "Declare Nepal Himalayas a 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, more than 100 participants from a variety of backgrounds supported the event with presentations and speeches heard over two sessions.
Speakers representing a wide variety of stakeholder institutes, including government ministries, the tourism industry, academic institutes, NGOs and INGOs attended the event, spoke on the waste management problems facing Nepal, and gave proposals for change at a national policy level. Government agencies were represented by Dr. Sumitra Aamatya, CEO of Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre (SWMTSC) and Mr. Govinda Prasad Kharel, Assistant Secretary for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. Foreign embassies were represented by Russian ambassador Dr. Sergey V. Velichkin and French Charge d’Affairs Virginie Corteval. US Science Envoy, Dr. Bernard Amadei, and Sanu Kaji Shrestha from the Foundation for Sustainable Technologies presented on the need for alternative sustainable materials to plastic. Ang Tsering Sherpa, senior vice president at International Mountaineering Association, Jerome Edou, volunteer senior advisor for Plastic Free Himalayas, and Dr. Ram Thapaliya, ICMS president, called for responsible management of plastics in trekking areas and the protection of Nepal’s national heritage through policy-making. Vice Chancellor of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Prof. Surendra R. Kafle, presided as Chief Guest of the event.
Pictured below: Chief Guest, Prof Surendra R. Kafle
The symposium concentrated on opening a dialogue on waste management in mountain areas (trekking, expedition, national parks) focusing on the question, “How can we address waste management issues 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?”
Following the joint lighting of an oil lamp, Dr. Bernard Amadei, US Science Envoy, opened the symposium, reiterating the importance of thinking green in every aspect of our lives, and the need for education from a young age. Sanu Kaji Shrestha from the Foundation of Sustainable Technology presented numerous ways of recycling plastic products into useful objects such as mats, light bulbs and flower pots. He highlighted the successful use of solar cookers and fuel briquette-making in some regions, and the potential for expanding this practice.
Dr. Sergey Velichkin of the Russian Embassy emphasized the importance of placing this issue at the forefront of Nepal’s agenda, noting the key role new technologies can play in waste management. Virginie Corteval of the French Embassy also related how the high return rate of tourists to Nepal due to its pristine environment should be safeguarded, stressing the need to maintain this through such plastic-free zone initiatives as this. She was confident that Nepal would receive tourists' full support and appreciation.
Chief Guest Surendra R. Kafle was enthusastic about strengthening links with interested stakeholders to create change for Nepal's future. Ang Tsering Sherpa from the IMA spoke passionately about the need to respect and protect the Himalayas - the pride of the Nepali nation - stressing the need to act immediately to prevent further damage to the nation's natural resources.
Pictured above left: Dr. Bernard Amadei, US Science Envoy; right: Sanju Kaji Shrestha
Jerome Edou of Plastic Free Himalayas communicated the unsustainable cost of collecting plastic waste from mountains, thus requiring other solutions to be found for managing the ever-increasing quantities of waste - namely banning of single-use plastics from the area. Such a ban has already been achieved through local initiatives in some areas of the Nepal Himalayas, for example from Chhomrung to Annapurna Sanctuary, Myagdi Community lodges and the Ilam region (for plastic bags).
Ambassadors Dr. Sergey Velichkin and Virginie Corteval addressing the symposium
In the afternoon, the symposium continued with further talks about the role that plastic industries could play in the solution to the problem, with ICMS' Dr. Thapaliya highlighting the detrimental effects of plastic waste disposal on Nepal's natural environment and the need for incentives for the plastic industry at large.
The day culminated in a special session for ICMS Master's students breaking out into groups to brainstorm ideas for policy dialogue on the issue of plastic waste management and policy initiatives for plastic-free zones. Students presented the results of their session, raising many relevant recommendations for reducing use of plastics in trekking areas.
Above and right: Student brainstorming and presenting solutions
A consensus emerged over a number of issues, in particular, that a ban on single-use plastic bottles and bags in trekking areas and other protected national parks would be an effective way to preserve the natural beauty of the Himalayas and would promote further tourism. Although it was agreed that recycling, reusing and reducing waste was necessary and applicable in certain contexts, it became clear that this approach would not be feasible in certain areas due to the unsustainable cost of collecting and recycling waste in these areas. Further proposals were put forward for use of affordable water filters at all trekking lodges within national parks and conservation areas. In addition, a trekkers code of conduct was suggested.
Above: Dr. Sumitra Aamatya, CEO of SWMTSC, presenting on the plastic waste management problems facing the Himalayas; right, Jerome Edou of Plastic Free Himalayas
During the symposium, a Sawyer Clean Water filtration system was also exhibited, a product that Plastic Free Himalayas would like to see installed at all lodges in the mountains. With such a system, a bucket can be filled with water from any source, and all harmful bacteria and protozoa will be removed as the water passes through the attached 0.1 micron membrane filter. It can provide at least 1500 litres per day, or more with additional filters or head pressure. The per litre cost of this system would come to less than 0.1 paisa, and does not require filter replacement, making it an ideal solution for clean drinking water supply in trekking areas, and mitigating the need for plastic bottles.
Photo: Sawyer Clean Water filtration system
In summary, a wide consensus was reached 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. Recycling, reusing or reducing would not be feasible in remote mountain areas due to the following:
- absence of recycling facilities and the unavailability of such plants in a foreseeable future
- huge cost of campaigns such as cleaning Mt. Everest
- in 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 plastics in national parks, recommendations were made towards the following initiatives:
1 - 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 – Implementation of a code of conduct for all trekkers/visitors in the national parks
3 – Promotion of local initiatives such as manufacturing jute or cotton bags to be sold to visitors
4 – Initiation of awareness campaigns focusing on schools, women associations, local communities
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's image abroad as a green destination.
You can find out more about the participants and these issues by visiting their websites below: