ICMS President Goes Green at NAC Climate+Change Event
ICMS President Dr. Ram Thapaliya took part in a panel discussion at the Nepal Arts Council on 21 February 2014 as part of Go Green Mela, a five day event hosted by Climate+Change to promote the ban of single-use plastics in the Nepal Himalayas.
Joining him was Ms. Sumitra Aamatya, CEO of the Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre, Ministry of Urban Development, and Jerome Edou, Senior Advisor of Plastic Free Himalayas. Speakers were keen to highlight the negative impacts of single-use plastics on the environment, as well as stimulate discussion on how to achieve a national policy-level ban on the use of plastic bags and bottles in Nepal’s national parks. Chairing the event was Mr. Ujol Sherchan, ICIMOD’s Knowledge Management and Communication Officer.
Jerome Edou of Plastic Free Himalayas opened the session, explaining that a plastic-free zone is necessary in order to protect the pristine beauty of the Himalayas and the tourism it attracts, which boasts a 40 percent return rate. To achieve this in a sustainable manner, responsible management of natural and human resources is required. Mr. Edou cited Bangladesh as just one example where all thin, disposable plastic bags have been banned since 2002 after they were found to have caused clogging of the drainage system during severe floods. Mr. Edou urged Nepal to follow suit.
One major problem standing in the way of a clean Himalayas is the cost of collection and recycling of single-use plastics in this region; during an Everest clean-up operation, two tons of plastics were collected at $96 per kilogram. This cost is unsustainable when 500,000 bottles are discarded by trekkers daily during Nepal’s trekking high season. Mr. Edou further warned of increasing risks of pollution with the opening of new roads into national park areas.
A success story that Mr. Edou would like to see reproduced across the region, with the support of enforced legislation, is that of Mr. Hem Bahadur from Chomrung, who spontaneously initiated a ‘No Plastic Bags’ policy at his lodge in order to deal with the growing quantity of non-biodegradable waste he had no means of disposing of. Mr. Edou declared that introducing such a ban at the government policy level would be a win-win for the flora and fauna of Nepal, the development of local economic alternatives and sustainable tourism, as well as a great advertisement for Nepal as a green holiday destination, while protecting Nepal’s heritage for future generations.
Following Mr. Edou was Ms. Aamatya from the Ministry of Urban Development. Although Nepal is a relatively small contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions, she reported that the Himalayas experience disproportionately large effects of global warming. Hence, she emphasized the need for responsible behaviors to help curb further harm to the natural environment.
One serious area of concern is the mismanagement of non-biodegradable waste in mountainous areas, a large contributor of which is single-use plastics. Currently, large amounts of waste are dumped in the mountains, which is collected from businesses but not all households. To deal with the non-biodegradable waste that is too costly to transport to cities decentralized land-filling and poor incineration practices occur, causing release of hazardous emissions into the environment. Ms. Aamatya further relayed that in Kathmandu, roughly 50 percent of waste goes directly to river banks and streets - despite the existence of plastics collectors - as thin bags do not attract a high recycling price due to their light weight and are therefore not collected.
Ms. Aamatya thus urged people to find alternative solutions to managing their waste, for example carrying a jute or cotton bag at all times, and the banning of non-biodegradable plastic bags at entry points to national parks. Another suggestion to reduce use of plastic bags is to place a high purchase tax on them. Her key message was, “don’t throw away, don’t burn, don’t bury, reject plastic”, and if you cannot remove plastic from your homes completely, at least sort the plastic waste from the organic so that it can be managed separately. Aamatya further pointed out that it was a matter of attitude rather than money to change people’s habits.
Sumitra Aamatya pictured holding up her reuseable cotton bag.
Dr. Thapaliya followed with a macro-level analysis of the issue from a policy dialogue perspective. He emphasized the need to promote policy measures for the prevention and minimization of plastic waste through its environmentally-safe treatment and disposal, recycling and reuse. For this to happen, an integrated approach within the context of private-public partnerships needs to occur. Government, NGOs and INGOs, trekking organisations, the general public and other stakeholders must share a common understanding of what the needs are, what resources are available, and unite to reach a shared goal.
Dr. Thapaliya described how Nepal is finally getting on board with other countries, such as Bangladesh and India, where the serious issue of plastics was recognized decades ago. Awareness needs to be promoted from grassroots level according to Dr. Thapaliya, as he believes public support is an essential component to policy success. He highlighted institute mapping as an important stage in this process, in order to clarify which institutes are involved at every level and every stage, thus promoting coordination and integration. Some of the questions that need to be tackled are, who will coordinate at a policy level, who are the partners, who will promote community interest, and what training is required for this to succeed. An integrated approach to tackling plastic waste is thus critical.
A panel discussion followed, where questions and comments were put to the panellists. There was a general consensus that government ministries provided insufficient information to the public regarding existing policies and that they lacked powers to enforce them. Ms. Aamatya commented that, in view of the current difficulty in implementing policy, the public should be part of the solution and take action themselves. It was similarly agreed that personal commitment as well as policy would lead to the best results, with the need for the general public to take initiative in their own homes by sorting biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, as well as using reusable bags. Some commented however, that, based on their experiences abroad, awareness campaigns and policy played only a small part in changing behaviors, and that the only way to reduce use of single-use plastic bags would be to make them inconvenient and costly to obtain, by forcing shoppers to pay a high fee for them.
As part of the event, a number of green technologies were on display to the public, including water purification tablets, innovative recycled products and waste material briquettes that can be used for fuel (pictured below).
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