Cleaning Up a Himalayan Village

By Liesl Clark

The village of Samdzong is so small it took us only 25 minutes to walk around with sacks to pick up the garbage thrown outside people’s homes. Why is this trash found throughout the village? Until recently, all garbage was organic: Shoes were (and many still are) handmade from leather and wool, clothing came from local wool, and there was no packaging accompanying the food because it was all carried up in burlap sacks or grown in their fields.

Walking around Samdzong village picking up the garbage. © Liesl Clark

Walking around Samdzong village picking up the garbage. © Liesl Clark

Throwing waste out the door, in a nearby stream, or even in the fields, was a common practice because waste was biodegradable and would eventually fertilize their crops. Now we find plastic Crocs, sneakers, and flip flops littering the village. Plastics of every kind can be found in every water supply in Nepal, even in this village at the top of the watershed. Toothbrushes, laundry powder packets, ramen noodle packaging, shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes are commonly found just about anywhere.

Crocs aren't disposable shoes, but they're found all over Nepal, in every stream I've come across. © Liesl Clark

Crocs aren’t disposable shoes, but they’re found all over Nepal, in every stream I’ve come across. © Liesl Clark

Most disturbing are the batteries found in the drinking water. We’ve recovered some 30 batteries from the irrigation ditches and streams nearby. Water is believed to move trash out of the village and out of sight. Since batteries don’t float, we find them where they’ve been discarded.

The ubiquitous battery. Pulled from Tsarang's water supply. © Liesl Clark

The ubiquitous Chinese-made battery. Pulled from Tsarang’s water supply. © Liesl Clark

Many batteries have been burned, thrown in a garbage-burning pile along with plastics, yet the batteries, of course, don’t burn completely. From Samdzong and other villages, I now have about 50 of these burned batteries. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that burning batteries and plastic is not good for human health. The mercury and cadmium in the batteries should never be burned and should be kept out of any watershed. We can recycle batteries through most municipal recycling facilities, but in Nepal batteries can’t be recycled. Efforts need to be made to safely dispose of them away from drinking water sources.

Batteries found in just a few minutes of searching amidst the town dumping site just outside the walls of the royal city of Lo Manthang. © Liesl Clark

Batteries found in just a few minutes of searching amidst the town dumping site just outside the walls of the royal city of Lo Manthang. © Liesl Clark

Plastics are found downstream of any village here. In some, the plastic waste in the water is so bad irrigation ditches have become clogged, causing unplanned flooding or damming of precious waters from the thirsty barley and mustard fields.

A dried riverbed of trash found outside the beautiful village of Ghami while the water was diverted for a few hours. This garbage waterfall is about 1/4 mile long. © Liesl Clark

A dried riverbed of trash found outside the beautiful village of Ghami while the water was diverted for a few hours. This garbage waterfall is about 1/4 mile long. © Liesl Clark

In 25 minutes, with the help of 4 men and 2 children, we collected 3 potato sacks-worth of cans, plastics, and batteries in Samdzong. They’ll be carried down valley to be picked through by a women’s club in the village of Kagbeni, where they sell burnables (I hope not plastic) to homes that need fuel and reuse what they can. We tried to take the plastics back to Kathmandu to be recycled but this was against the regulations of the Annapurna Conservation Area District, that required us to drop off all the garbage, whether our own or a village’s upstream, at their checkpost in Kagbeni. My concern is this: The villages are simply dumping their garbage into the rivers and streams at an alarming rate. A system of recycling for each village needs to be established so the flow of plastics into Himalayan waters can be stopped. We’re all downstream of these villages and it’s up to us to educate everyone about the health hazards of these plastics and batteries entering our watersheds.

Another cascade of plastics into a river below Tato Pani. © Liesl Clark

Another cascade of plastics into a river below Tato Pani. © Liesl Clark

Two of the women from the village of Samdzong brought out their household trash to add to our collection – more plastic packaging for noodle soup. There’s no burial pit for garbage here as you see in some villages, no place to safely dispose of it here at 13,000 feet.

Rara (Ramen) packets like these can be recycled in Nepal, but no one collects them for recycling in Upper Mustang. © Liesl Clark

Rara (Ramen) packets like these can be recycled in Nepal, but no one collects them for recycling in Upper Mustang. © Liesl Clark

“Thank you,” were their words of appreciation as the women handed me used batteries that’ll be carried by our horses out of this pristine village sitting upon the sacred grounds of the headwaters of the great Kali Gandaki River watershed.

Burning trash is not good for your health or the environment. Plastics emit dioxin which is known to cause upper respiratory as well as neurological problems. © Liesl Clark

Burning trash is not good for your health or the environment. Plastics emit dioxin which is known to cause upper respiratory as well as neurological problems. © Liesl Clark

Are you depressed by these images from Mustang, Nepal? You can help us in our efforts to raise awareness about this garbage crises in our world’s highest watersheds by contributing to our campaign.

Help us preserve the beauty of Upper Mustang, Nepal. © Liesl Clark

Help us preserve the beauty of Upper Mustang, Nepal. © Liesl Clark

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Categories: Mapping Plastic, Plastic-Free Living, Recycle, Reduce Your Use, Think About It, Trash Philanthropy, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff

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4 Comments on “Cleaning Up a Himalayan Village”

  1. June 12, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Liesl, this is so sad to see. I hope the people there have learned from you and your family a few things to protect their water and their health.

  2. June 15, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    Hi Lois. Thanks for commenting and connecting your readers to our project. We’ve just returned to Kathmandu after a month out in the more isolated parts of Nepal and, bar none, every stream or river we came across had trash thrown into it. Not your occasional item or 2. People are literally using the rivers to send their trash downstream. It’s an age-old practice that’s now backfiring because of all the plastics and batteries in the trash. We have a long way to go in raising awareness. And if our world’s highest watersheds are clogged with trash, what can those of us who live downstream do to help?
    — Liesl

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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