PSD Nepal plastics upcycling & recycling in Langtang National Park, Rasuwa, Nepal
by PSD Nepal
A MOUNTAINEERING FOCUS
PSD Nepal plastics work is based in the historic Langtang Valley of Rasuwa, Nepal – both a National Park of environmental protection and a heritage site of rich cultural and historical diversity.
Langtang Valley, in the district of Rasuwa, Northern Nepal, is located 120km north of Kathmandu. The oldest national park in all of Nepal, Langtang was established in 1976, and now hosts over 15,000 international tourists & trekkers annually. It is home to 18 ecosystem types (tropical forests to alpine scrubs) and endemic species, including the endangered snow leopard, musk deer & red panda. Ranging from 1250m-4000m, local villages are remote & hard to access.
The historic village of Langtang was devastated in the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, claiming 400 lives. Reconstruction work in the valley has been supported by some NGOs, though this has been done in haste, with a view to restoring tourist numbers. The ecological impacts of this reconstruction have been damaging for local habitats and endemic wildlife.
The work of PSD Nepal on PET plastics upcycling & recycling encourages wild trekking and tourism in the region, whilst limiting the environmental damage of the 15,000 annual visitors. Further, we work with local guides and porters to clean high mountain camps in excess of 4,500m, so that base-camps to the highest peaks in the National Park remain clean. These include the world-famous Yala Peak, Morimoto, Tilman Pass, Gangala Pass, and Baden Powell Scout Peak.
Under the Langtang Buffer Zone Management Guidelines, LNP (Langtang National Park) conserves forests, wildlife, cultural resources and natural resources. The regulatory implementation of such protection is weak, however. Local, grassroots efforts at conservation and waste recycling are required and can provide important community mobilisation.
With over 15,000 trekkers per year, 125 tonnes of historic plastic waste stuck in an inaccessible valley, and further waste mounting, barriers to recycling and upcycling are high. Institutionally, LNP has not yet enforced a plastic-free zone. Technologically speaking, roads, infrastructure, & access are poor. Local finances are insufficient for significant interventions & sustainable solutions and social empowerment is lacking. The ecological consequences and negative impact are significant. Urgent intervention is required to tackle a remote yet pressing nature conservation challenge.
BEST PRACTICES IN MOUNTAINEERING AND
The work of PSD Nepal with the mountain people of Langtang looks to cultivate a circular economy of cradle-to-cradle (rather than grave) development solutions. Long-term viability of this scheme is enacted through a 1 bottle = 1 NPR incentive scheme to drive collection of PET plastic waste, given the thousands of plastic bottles littering the local landscape & valley. The scheme in Langtang National Park is a pilot phase to test the feasibility of recycling in other remote national parks in Nepal & the Himalaya more generally.
Business work and research methods in Langtang include exploring the potential for closed-loop circular economy resource management of PET plastic waste across three platforms.
• Recycling: using a 1 bottle = 1 NPR incentive scheme for collection to drive local recycling practise and collection of waste. The waste PET plastic collected is sent to Pokhara (central Nepal) for recycling, to generate a long-term business model that can support recycling in the region and also drive education in LNP.
• Upcycling: local upcycling with PET & glass waste can be used for architectural construction and education. In future this can also be scaled up for upcycling in partnership with long-term work with NAST (Nepal Academy of Science & Technology) for conversion of plastic waste to RDF (reduced diesel fuel), 1kg = 80ml at 80% efficiency rates. This is a long-term option for resource management of plastic waste in the Himalaya.
• R&D work: local-implementation of PET retrieval methods, including compressors & flake machines, local extrusion, local production of upcycled materials (tiles, textiles & moulds) can encourage job creation in rural areas and serve mountain communities. In the long-term, this will be able to generate local employment and income streams from waste in remote regions of Nepal.
In the short-term, this accelerator project serves as a joint approach to land both recycling and upcycling schemes in Langtang National Park – across three major trekking valleys (Langtang, Gosaikunda, and Heritage Trail). In the medium term, this creates local employment (>26 local jobs), ecological respect, and environmental-consciousness. In the long term, we hope this will engage a shift in waste mentalities and environmental consciousness across Nepal.
• Ecological sustainability: clearing of waste (PET, aluminium, glass) from fragile national park
• Community resilience: local employment (>26 jobs), environmental awareness, and education
• Circular economy: plastic PET money recycled into LNP for local investment and R&D costs
Local stakeholder involvement exists from the start. Co-created with local partners, local responsibility is fostered. Local government & LNP (Ministry) are already set to go ‘plastic free’ by 2021 (2 year vision). Further local groups & co-operative work drive further local responsibility.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR VOLUNTEERS
PSD Nepal is a not-for-profit social development organisation that encourages both local resilient solutions to development in Nepal, and international volunteering opportunities for overseas researchers, students, and activists. Our website http://www.psdnepal.org demonstrates the variety of volunteering opportunities we host, for medical, research, academic, and community partners.
As a part of the aim to build capacity in rural communities, Nepal offers several volunteer programs. PSD welcomes interested volunteers (or groups) from many backgrounds and professions. The mission and objective of the volunteer programs is to encourage and invite International and National volunteers to contribute in areas of rural community development, education development and environment and nature conservation. These projects help to boost pride and morale amongst local communities and encourage them to take local initiation for development activities themselves.
On arrival in Nepal, volunteers undergo in-country training. This training will be one week for the Easter and Summer Project volunteers and five weeks for the long-term project volunteers, and includes Nepalese language classes for basic Nepali conversation skills, cultural adjustment lessons and full details of the assigned project as well as any specific skills/training needed for the successful accomplishment of the project.
The Summer Project is a short-term hands-on project, where overseas volunteers work alongside Nepalese volunteers to make a significant difference in a rural community or government school.
During this programme volunteers organize awareness raising activities to help promote understanding of various social, environmental and development issues. Volunteers help address the different issues by forming self help groups such as youth groups, student groups and women’s groups. Additional work includes teaching English, Early Childhood Development program implementation and working on micro-level projects.
The PSD eco volunteering projects in the National Parks of Nepal are centred on the work in Langtang. We are currently facilitating recycling in Langtang National Park, Rasuwa, Northern Nepal. Plastic bottles, tourist waste, and poor recycling facilities currently impinge on the environmental wellbeing of this National Park. PSD sends volunteers to work on these issues, both on environmental clean up operations and on construction projects, installing waste and recycling facilities. PSD Nepal also works with a number of entrepreneurship exchanges, to boost enterprise and innovative developmental solutions in the developing world. We are currently working with HeisDA (German-based), ICE (International Collaborators of Education, New York, USA), and BUSA (Bond University South Australia).
RELATIONSHIP WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES
In the work in Langtang National Park, we aim to support long-term stewardship and project sustainability by raising awareness of three key values; respect, pride and responsibility.
The Tibetan-Tamang people groups inhabiting both the Himalayan Valleys of Northern Nepal and also Northern India, are an endangered culture. With significant rural-urban migration toward big cities, the economic opportunities that tourism affords, and the increasing pressure on local habitat and resources, pressure is mounting on a culture that reflects many centuries of rich history. The work of PSD Nepal aims to cultivate the wellbeing and longevity of a historic heritage culture, and promote pride, respect and responsibility in a changing world, for both an endangered culture and a fragile environmental landscape.
Starting with respect – this is simply the honour due towards something that is valued – is marred in a terrain littered by plastic, waste, and tourist trash. These threaten both the natural assets of this spectacular valley, and also the very foundations of a thriving eco-tourist economy based on trekking. Likewise, pride – the satisfaction derived from qualities that are widely admired – should be reflected in a clean and well-maintained national park, boasting great Himalayan wonders and rich natural resources in tumbling rivers, diverse jungle, and precious forests. These are qualities to be admired and to be proud of. Finally, responsibility – of being accountable – is in the very nature of the federal republic of Nepal, as a landlocked country nicknamed the ‘Himalayan kingdom’. Home to the longest chain of Himalayan mountains of all Asian countries, Nepal has the responsibility for these natural wonders. Likewise, India carries a huge responsibility for environmental management, awareness, and education, with a population burgeoning over one billion people. With great responsibility come difficult decisions. The longevity, sustainability, and ecology of these breath-taking mountains need to be considered ahead of simply the economic gains and potential of the Himalaya.
As Robert Bateman (2000: 117) writes in ‘Thinking like a Mountain’, gazing on his local Mount Maxwell or Saltspring Island; ‘the story of the creation of this mountain evokes permanence, patience, adaptability and nobility—characteristics worth emulating’. Indeed, he charges us all to ‘think like a mountain’ – with a sense of permanence and a long view. Permanence pays dividends. The long view never disappoints.”
Local communities have been collaborating & consulting from end-to-end on this project, starting with a ‘pre-totype’ phase with KGLS (Kyangen Gumpa Langtang Society) and further enacted by LNP (Langtang National Park) and the national ministries for national parks and nature conservation.
To date, around 26 local employees work with PSD Nepal to recycle & upcycle PET plastic in the region. This project aims to expand this reach to grow a base of long-term employment, viability, and sustainability for the local mountainous community.
COLLABORATION WITH LOCAL AUTHORITIES
The work in Langtang National Park demands significant collaboration with domestic and international partners, to facilitate an upcycling and recycling logic to grow in scale and viability.
PSD Nepal was founded in 2002, with projects since in a number of districts across Nepal. PSD draws on the professional experience of its staff from a variety of professions. The lead consultant for this project, Samuel Johns, has worked in mountain regions (Alps, Rockies, and Himalaya) with over ten years’ experience working on development in both rural and urban Nepal.
On the domestic scale, within Nepal, partners are engaged on the three hierarchies noted below:
• Local – KGLS – Kyangen Gumpa Langtang Society are the group of community elders and local spokespersons who advocate on behalf of their local population for projects of development and investment. The PSD Nepal collaboration with KGLS, in the Langtang Valley, has been co-created so as to listen to local voices as much as possible and understand what can work for long-term viability in mountain protection. Work on PET plastic recycling and upcycling employs local porters, mule owners, and various other stakeholders – most often selected by KGLS and local trekking leaders (including hotel owners) – to help the logistic of removing PET plastic from the national park.
• Regional – LNP – whilst Langtang National Park authority (LNP) recently announced a vision to be plastic free by 2021 (a two-year vision from now), the work required to get to this point was significant and sustained. PSD Nepal worked hard with LNP to drive awareness on recycling and PET plastic waste, so as to encourage a shift in local attitudes towards waste, boost local awareness, and also raise the general level of environmental consciousness in the region and in the national park, specifically. LNP have been closely collaborated with so as to safeguard the success of this for the long-term.
• National – Ministry for National Parks, Wildlife & Nature Conservation. This ministry has been consulted with on a number of occasions so as to better understand the long-term vision of environmental protection in Nepal. The Ministry provided to support to the work of PSD Nepal in Langtang and has also committed to helping in moving other national parks in Nepal to being ‘plastic free’ in the future.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
On World Earth Day, Nepali ministers recognised a ‘global crisis’ in plastic waste management. This is as evident in Nepal as elsewhere. Since the 2011 announcement by Nepali Ministry for Science, Technology, and Environment, on both ‘plastic bags control’ and ‘regulation directive’, focus on plastic waste in Nepal has been growing. The new government is also engaged. Local stakeholders in Rasuwa include LNP (Langtang National Park), KGLS (Kyangen Gumpa Langtang Society) & co-operatives who want to drive waste management & local recycling.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) demand responsible consumption (#12), clean water (#6), sustainable communities (#11), and partnerships (#17) to achieve goals. The 2030 agenda & Paris Agreement call for locally-practiced, globally-conscious, & ecologically-sensitive development. This project champions these.
The vision, mission, and goals of PSD Nepal work in plastics are outlined below
• Vision: cultivating circular economies in rural mountainous zones
• Mission: recycling PET plastic bottles & upcycle plastic waste to RDF fuel
• Goal: promoting environmental wellbeing, by sustainable local management
Further objectives of this project include:
• Local Employment – PSD Nepal work in Langtang looks to boost initiative and creativity with regard to local waste management. As such, local employment, job creation, and income generation are further objectives of the PSD work in plastics
• Reconstruction – PSD Nepal is also supporting local reconstruction work in Rasuwa, in Langtang, Briddim, and Tatopani, to those most affected by the 2015 earthquake. This includes basic shelters for those dispossessed of homes, home repairs for earthquake damage, and earthquake-proofing new and old constructions in partnership with local masons and carpenters in Rasuwa.
• Education – work in local schools and with educational groups across Langtang helps to raise awareness on PET plastic waste and also drive awareness of creative up-cycling use. PSD staff have been running up-cycling workshops with local school groups by using PET bottle caps to create artistic creations and landscape sketches.
• WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) – PSD are also starting to work with local schools in Syabru Besi and Langtang, providing educational programs on waste and plastic recycling, as well as WASH programmes targeting personal hygiene, health, and sanitation.
• Model Plastic PET home – PSD Nepal are currently planning and constructing (in the coming autumn 2019) a ‘model plastic home’ made of upcycled waste, including plastic PET bottles and glass beer bottles. PSD hope that the PET model home both be a flagship for the community and a symbol of innovation in Langtang Valley, on display to locals and foreign trekkers alike. This should raise awareness of both plastic upcycling and environmental heritage across the Himalaya, and specifically in the Langtang National Park.
A dysfunctional waste system is in operation. Local river water is treated as a convenient means of waste disposal, for PET, glass, tin, paper, and general waste. Whilst 52MM people live in the Himalaya, 320MM drink, use, and bathe in the waters of the Himalaya downstream. Pollution and ecological impacts grow disproportionately downstream. As such, waste mitigation (PET bans) and adaptation (recycling and upcycling) are of utmost importance and urgency. Annual waste (estimated) is:
Location Total T/yr Bottle Totals/yr Total est. T waste in valley
Plastic PET 15 T >660,000 bottles 125 tonnes PET waste
Glass (beer) 105 T >255,000 bottles 525 tonnes glass waste
Tin (can drinks) 9 T >540,000 cans 65 tonnes aluminium waste
PSD Nepal work is divided into three key parts;
• Recycling: using a 1 bottle = 1 npr incentive scheme to help PET collection to drive local recycling practise and collection of waste. This valuable waste can then be sent to Pokhara (central Nepal) for recycling, to generate a long-term business model that can support recycling in the region and also drive education in LNP.
• Upcycling: local upcycling with PET & glass waste can be used for architectural construction and education. This can also be scaled up for upcycling in partnership with long-term partnership with NAST (Nepal Academy of Science & Technology) for conversion of plastic waste to RDF (reduced diesel fuel), 1kg = 80ml at 80% efficiency rates.
• R&D work: local-implementation of PET retrieval methods, including compressors & flake machines, local extrusion, local production of upcycled materials (tiles, textiles & moulds) can encourage job creation in rural areas. If further scaled up, this will be able to generate local employment and income streams from waste in remote regions of Nepal.
• Activities: a monthly cycle of PET plastic collection is enacted, taking 40,000 bottles plastic (PET waste) from Langtang National Park to Pokhara. This involves minimum 1x large truck for collection & transportation of waste (1000kg) to the recycling facility.
• Milestones: the 2025 vision encompasses the milestones of the project, with 1x new National Park added every year from 2018-2025 so as to cover all major national parks with PET plastic recycling in Nepal by 2025 (excluding Everest region Solu Khumbu, which is served by Sagarmatha Next)
HOW WE COMMUNICATE
This project is currently significantly impinged upon by the remoteness of rural Nepal and also the difficulty of communicating mountain culture heritage and richness to a broader public. Without a doubt, the help of the UIAA MPA platform would be significant to grow awareness of waste problems in rural Nepal and the need to urgently protect high Himalayan zones and national parks.
At present, PSD Nepal work is communicated with a wider public in five major ways:
• Email: a close-knit community of PSD Nepal partners, previous volunteers, and overseas advocates are communicated with on a monthly basis by means of mailing list, whereby an email of recent activities is sent out. This includes updates such as latest staff recruited, kg PET plastic recycled, upcycling plans in the coming quarter (3 month period) and changes to strategy.
• Social: Facebook and Instagram are used as social media channels for ‘live’ and contemporary updates on work in the field. This includes short video clips (see online) of around 60 seconds, and also regular photographic updates from the remote locations of plastic collection, including Langtang, Gosaikunda, and the Langtang Heritage Trail. These are all shared publicly and provide a platform for interaction and wider communication as well.
• Fundraising campaigns: a gofundme platform is used for broader fundraising with the general public, so as to boost awareness of plastic problems in the Himalaya and also help the general public tackle this issue via public donation. This also serves as a way to post updates from Facebook and social, to maintain a stream of communication with previous supporters (visit: https://gofundme.com/himalayan-plastic-removal-langtang)
• General updates: Twitter is employed as a platform for general updates, including awareness of global plastic campaigns, news media, recent PET news stories, and encouragements from other countries – including Indonesia, Nigeria, the UK, and others.
The PSD Nepal communication strategy broadly follows the monthly cycle of plastic PET waste collection; firstly waste is sent down from the mountain (by porter, mule, donkey, and horse) totalling around 40,000 PET bottles per month (1 tonne), next it is collected in centralised recycling centres in Rasuwa (notably Dunche and Syabru Besi), then shipped, on a monthly basis, by truck, to Himalayan Plastic in Pokhara for recycling into PET pellets.
On a monthly basis, PSD Nepal shares the recent work – including totals of KG plastic recycled and specific sites targeted – with the major channels of media noted above.
To discover more about the UIAA Mountain Protection Award please click here.
Please note that the content published in this article is courtesy of the Award nominee. The UIAA has made minor revisions to the original submission.