When you imagine the Nepalese Himalayas, what do you see? Immense peaks blanketed in unbroken snow, luscious green valleys, crystal-clear streams – all with nothing man-made in sight besides the prayer flags strewn over the jagged rocks?
Well, unfortunately, the world’s highest mountain range hasn’t always looked this way. Following Tenzing and Hilary’s first ever summit of Everest in 1965, the trail to the roof of the world became increasingly littered by the growing number of climbers and trekkers heading to its slopes.
This reached a climax when, in 2014, the Nepali government introduced a new rule whereby any climber undertaking an expedition to summit Mount Everest must bring back 8 kilograms of waste, or pay a $4,000 forfeit. Since clean-up efforts began, tens of thousands of kilos of rubbish have been brought down from the mountain, but it is expected that much more remains on the highest reaches of Everest.
Ang Tshering Sherpa, chief of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told Reuters:
“Discarded in ice pits, the human waste remains under the snow,” Sherpa told reporters on Tuesday. “When washed down by glaciers (when the snow melts), it comes out in the open.”
Since the Nepali government’s 2014 measures, the condition of Mount Everest and its camps has been improving dramatically. Currently, there are no rules in place for those trekking to Everest Base Camp, or in other areas such the Annapurna region. However, in order to preserve this truly unique environment, it is important that everyone who goes hiking in Nepal does whatever they can to keep the trails clean.
Carry it up, carry it down
The first tip for environmentally-friendly trekking in Nepal is an obvious one: don’t litter. Well, it might sound obvious, but the previous problems in the area make it clear that this isn’t necessarily the case.
The problem is that Nepal’s mountains are remote. They’re very remote. Carrying your rubbish to the nearest bin isn’t a matter of walking down the street. Often, you will be walking for hours – usually to the next teahouse – until you even pass a bin. Unfortunately, due to the inaccessibility of these areas, garbage disposal services cannot always reach them.
As LiveScience explains, “trash is primarily managed by the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), a nonprofit and nongovernment organization that does its best to keep the Khumbu region clean. With support from locals, the SPCC cleans and maintains several climbing routes. The organization also installed over 70 trash containers along trails and provides door-to-door garbage collection in some of the larger villages.”
However, there is no way of guaranteeing that the rubbish you place in bins will reach landfill – let alone be recycled. Therefore it is best for you to carry as much of your waste as possible – if not all – back down to Kathmandu. It is also preferable for trekkers to carry as much of their own equipment as they can manage. There are currently laws in place that dictate how much weight a porter can carry, and if they are overloaded it becomes much more difficult for them to carry rubbish back down the trail.
Better yet, why not take an empty lightweight packaway bag with you on your trek and pick up any litter you come across – especially items like batteries and items wildlife could become trapped in – and take it back to Kathmandu with you.
Use a refillable water bottle
One of the leading causes of plastic pollution in the Himalayas are disposable plastic bottles. Visitors cannot drink the tap water in Nepal, because it is likely to give them stomach problems, and this leads to many trekkers buying bottled water and disposing of it either in tea houses or bins along the trail. However, due to a lack of rubbish collection, these bottles can end up flying out into the mountains, or being burnt.
To avoid this conundrum, ensure you bring at least two refillable water bottles with you. Either you may choose an insulated stainless steel bottle like the Jedz bottle to use with chlorine water purification tablets, or a filtering water bottle, such as Water-to-Go bottles, which feature a sophisticated filter in the lid, allowing you to simply fill the bottle and drink safely immediately.
Take eco-friendly cosmetics
An important consideration that trekkers often overlook when they are trying to be eco-friendly on the trail is their cosmetics. Many items, such as face wash, body wash, toothpastes and more contain microplastics, and when these are washed away into the grey water, the microplastics pollute the mountain rivers and local water supply. This then negatively affects both wildlife and local people.
As Inside Himalayas says: “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.” It is therefore vital that hikers ensure none of the products they take trekking in Nepal contain any form of microplastic.
However, there are many other chemicals in standard cosmetics that can pollute the water supply and poison local animals and fish. Try to only pack , whether it be Sea to Summit’s Wilderness Wash, biodegradable wet wipes (carry them down!), or eco-friendly sun creams.
Wear eco-friendly, long-lasting clothing
Of course, microplastics aren’t just in cosmetics. They are also present in a lot of trekking clothing and equipment – particularly those made out of synthetic materials. For this reason, it is advisable to look out for trekking-appropriate clothing using natural materials such as cotton, wool, silk, hemp and linen.
However, when choosing technical clothing that will keep you safe and warm (or cool!) on the trail, this isn’t always possible. We therefore advise Bucketlisters to pack enough clothing to avoid washing clothes on the trek itself. It is during washing that any microplastics from synthetic materials will enter the water system, so try to hold out until you get home – or at least to Kathmandu.
Practice your “Pardaina”s
“Pardaina” is the Nepali phrase for “I don’t need it”. Learning the phrase, “Pardaina, dhan’yavāda” (“I don’t need it, thank you”) is essential if you want to trek in the Himalayas in an environmentally-conscious manner.
Often, when you visit local village shops and bazaars, you will be offered plastic bags and packaging to carry your items. Use this phrase when offered unnecessary plastics, and simply wrap up any souvenirs in clothes inside your backpack, or place food items inside a reusable tote.
According to Lonely Planet, one of the biggest environmental issues in Nepal is deforestation. For this reason, some trekkers prefer to only use solar-powered hot showers, and to try to eat in teahouses that use kerosene to cook, rather than wood.
However, the latter is often logically impossible. Instead, why not support a local charity, government organisation or family who are trying to support reforestation in the mountains and valleys? You could even offer to help collect deadwood for burning, so that locals don’t have to cut more wood down.
Nepal is home to some of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world. The bulk of this is concentrated in the mountains and foothills – meaning that contact with some form of wildlife whilst trekking in the Himalayas is inevitable.
If you do encounter animals on the trail – wild or otherwise – it is important to keep your distance. Touching wild animals could lead to the transfer of diseases, and also tames animals, potentially making them vulnerable to hunting. In addition to this, it’s important not to pick wild flowers or move fossils. These are vital parts of the natural habitat that ought to be preserved for the food cycle to function.
Use the toilets!
On the slopes of Everest itself, one of the biggest sources of waste is – well – human waste. This is somewhat understandable, as there are no toilets at Camp V! On the way up to Everest Base Camp and on the Annapurna Circuit, however, there are plenty of toilets available in the tea houses. These should be used.
Try to avoid using “nature’s facilities’ wherever possible, because your waste could enter the water system and pollute the environment. If you absolutely must go outside, ensure you do so at least 100 metres away from any natural water source, and dig a hole at least a foot deep, covering it well after you are finished.
There’s nothing better at the end of a long day of trekking than a delicious, hot, home-cooked meal in a Nepalese tea house. These days, most tea houses have varied menus with lots of options – and you should definitely make a point of trying everything whilst you’re on your trip.
However, if you’re travelling in a group, travel blogger Tess from A Life Full of Serendipity recommends that one way to reduce the use of cooking fuel (or wood) is to consolidate cooking time. She recommends dahl bhat, as it “is inexpensive, healthy and does not require a lengthy cooking time. Just food for thought : Most Nepalis eat Dhal Baat twice per day every day of their lives!”
Now, many of us will leap at the opportunity to eat a familiar fish of pizza at that one teahouse after a week of Nepalese food, but do try to eat local dishes as much as possible. Locally-cooked dishes, made with local ingredients, are going to entail the least environmental impact to produce. Dishes like dhal baat don’t need to be imported or transported up the mountain, and they don’t come in plastic packaging!
Off-setting your air fares
Finally, there is your international transport to think about. We highly recommend that everyone who travels with The Bucket List Company offsets the carbon emissions of their air travel. You can do this by buying ‘green credits’ – or contributing to environmental projects – at ClimateCare. The website allows you to calculate the carbon footprint of your air journey and off-set it in a variety of ways.
Of course, off-setting doesn’t exactly have to be a case of buying green credits or planting trees. One of the most effective ways to balance out your travel carbon footprint is to support a local environmental charity. For example, Sagarmatha Next is an organisation that aims to create art using rubbish collected in Sagarmatha National Park, where Mount Everest is located. The organisation also plans to build a center near the town of Namche Bazaar that will help with waste management, art and community development – so why not pop by, donate or volunteer on your trekking trip to Nepal?