Most of us who trek in the Himalayas come from cities. Along with us, we bring a lot of products that can only be found in cities. And most of the products generate waste in some way or the other. A plastic bag holding chips will be termed as waste after we consume the chips. A pair of socks or shoes that is worn out completely is termed as waste.
Waste vs repurposing “useless” products
Are you wondering why I’m saying they’ll be termed as waste rather than just calling them waste? It’s because many of us have the wrong notion about waste. We tend to dispose off things that may not be of any use at that particular moment. A product that has lost its core use need not be termed useless. It can be used for a different purpose. Indians have even coined a term for this – jugaad.
In the mountains, resources are already limited. So we have to be very careful about what we’re disposing. Keeping this in mind, we ensure that all the waste that is produced on our treks is segregated and reused, recycled or upcycled if possible.
How we collect waste
Before we talk about segregation and recycling, we must talk about waste collection. We are not the only ones who trek in the Himalayas. Thousands of people trek, either with organisations or on their own. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of or educated about the consequences of reckless disposal of waste, especially in such delicate ecosystems as the Himalayas. To counter this problem, we came up with the idea of Eco-Bags.
Eco-bags – a simple and easy solution
Eco-bags are small bags that can be tied around your waist like a belt. They act as waste collection bags while you’re trekking. We provide Eco-bags to all our trekkers during a trek. Apart from collecting their own waste, they’re also requested to pick up any waste from the trail like chocolate wrappers or plastic bottles. At the end of the day, all the waste is collected at the campsite.
How we segregate waste
Now that the waste is collected, what’s the next step? We segregate the waste. If the weather conditions are good, trekkers are asked to volunteer to help the camp staff with the segregation. There are primarily two types of waste – wet waste and dry waste. The dry waste can be further divided into recyclable and non-recyclable waste.
In Indiahikes we follow a 4-way segregation system:
- Recyclable waste, which includes plastic bottles, tin cans, tetra-packs and glass bottles
- Non-recyclable waste, which includes dirty plastic wrappers, styrofoam and soiled clothes
- Compostable waste that includes paper and thin cardboard
- Organic waste or wet waste, which includes all that is naturally decomposable
What we do with dry waste
Usually all the trekkers and the camp staff gather and segregate the waste. We then pack the segregated waste in sacks and mark them accordingly. With the help of mules or horses, the sacks of waste are sent down from the higher camps to the base camp. At the end of every trekking season, we either send all the segregated waste to Waste Warriors, Dehradun or we give away the recyclables to kabadiwalas and dispose the non-recyclable waste at the nearest landfill.
What we do with wet waste
This leaves us with only wet waste. Most of our wet waste is from the kitchen, food waste and human waste. For all our wet waste, we maintain a season long compost pit. We follow the simplest form of composting, which requires dry leaves/coco-peat, the wet waste itself, some amount of moisture, air and soil. The pits usually measure at least 3 cubic feet, unless there is scarcity of space at the campsite. In campsites that are too rocky, an elevated enclosure is made to be used as the compost pit. The compostable waste (paper and thin cardboard) is mixed with this wet waste and used in a compost pit. If you want to know more about the method of composting, refer to this link.
We also recycle and upcycle
Apart from this, old documents that are of no use end up as paper waste. Although this can be used in our compost pit, we try to find alternative ways to reuse it. Recently, we started recycling this paper waste to make recycled paper. Watch this video to learn how we make recycled paper. The clean plastic covers from our merchandise section is also upcycled in different ways. Read this article to learn more about our Upcycling projects.
So as you can see, managing waste in the mountains is quite tough! We aim for zero-waste treks in the near future. Do you have any ideas on how we can do this better? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.