Despite the local inhabitants’ habit of casting packaging aside, litter has not been a huge problem in remote parts of the Himalaya until relatively recently. Traditional packaging simply biodegraded and goods packaged in plastic were not as common as those packaged in reusable receptacles such as tins and glass. These were highly sought by local villagers and always put to secondary use. Recently, that has all changed. Everything now comes wrapped in plastic and, as money filters back from towns to the villages, more packaged goods are bought and a plastic litter problem has mushroomed as locals continue their habit of throwing litter aside.
Now an Australian-born initiative called 10 Pieces is softly influencing locals living along trekking trails to change that habit. World Expeditions trekkers in Nepal (as well as Bhutan, Peru and Indonesia) are encouraged to volunteer to participate and pledge to pick up at least ten pieces of paper and plastic litter every day. The initiative was first conceived of by Australian woman Lisa Vitaris while hiking and picking up litter in Ala Archa National Park, Kyrgyzstan.
“As part of my Master’s degree in International Marketing, I used my business project to determine whether 10 Pieces could be a success,” Vitaris said.
“I conducted focus groups with many travellers as well as one-on-one interviews with travel managers of prominent tour companies.
“Donna Lawrence from World Expeditions was the most supportive and once I set up the initiative, she worked to integrate a trial into selected World Expeditions treks in Bhutan.”
One of the big constraints on anyone picking up litter is having something to carry it in and somewhere to dispose of it. 10 Pieces participants carry a Sea to Summit Trash Sack to put the litter, which is later disposed of by cleanly burning it in portable, lightweight incinerators.
Most plastics (all except those labelled 3 and 6) only produce CO2, water and a little ash when burned cleanly in an incinerator. This leaves no unsightly fire scars on the ground and, unlike landfill, permanently eliminates it. While recycling is the ideal solution, the logistics of doing so is simply not feasible in many areas like the Himalaya. And seeing foreigners picking up litter has opened locals’ eyes to it being aproblem, especially one that is detrimental to tourism and livestock, so they have begun to encourage one another to solve it. Nepali trek leader Mit Rana told me that it had an “impressive” effect on local people. “They see foreign trekkers picking up litter and they suddenly think, ‘Why are they picking up litter, maybe it’s not a good thing?’” Rana said. “They also feel that it reflects badly on their community so they hold a meeting in the village and resolve to tackle the problem.”
The success of the project thus far has seen 10 Pieces expand to include World Expedition trips to Nepal, Indonesia and Peru. Lawrence, who continues to invest her time and interest into the initiative, said that there’s plenty more ways in which World Expeditions intends to support the campaign, beginning with adding it into a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro this year.
“We have our sights set on adding it in to even more treks over the next two years,” Lawrence said. “It would also be ideal if we could collectively change the behaviour of littering in the countries we’re operating in and improve the litter disposal options.
“Sue Badyari, World Expeditions’ CEO, has been instrumental in this, lobbying overseas governments to improve their environmental policies.”
World Expeditions’ youth division, World Youth Adventures, is also offering 10 Pieces to school and university groups from around the world. A group of secondary students from a school in Philadelphia, USA, recently returned from a trek in Nepal, where they all participated in 10 Pieces.
“International travel in the formative years is transformative, affording students with many learning experiences,” Lawrence said. “By participating in 10 Pieces, students learn how their individual actions collectively make a big difference,
and that by leading by example they can influence entire communities.”
As the concept’s creator, Vitaris hopes to begin working with other operators as soon as possible. “Beyond World Expeditions, 10 Pieces will soon begin to engage other travel companies and broaden the remit of travellers who are able to participate in the initiative,” she said. Anyone, not just World Expeditions trekkers, can sign up to the 10 Pieces pledge. It can be practiced everywhere, whether you’re trekking in Nepal or on your favourite local walk.
This article originally appeared in issue 159. Subscribe today.