Tackling Trash Atop Mountains: Sustainable Mountain Tourism

 December 11, 2021 observed as International Day of Mountains has the theme of Sustainable Mountain Tourism in the first year of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Most of our hill-top tourist hot-spots, mountaineering sites as well as hill hiking and trekking routes suffer from littering and a resultant waste management issue. Inevitably these tiny towns have a larger proportion of tourists visiting than the number of people living there and the inaccessibility of hill and mountain roads adds to the trash troubles. Not to mention the problems of resource scarcity, inflation and traffic. 

A mountain (base camp) littered with plastic and trash

Even the Everest is not spared from the plastic menace and littering. Many humans may not have conquered the world's highest peak but their trash sure has dominated the previously pristine and sacred peak. That's the case of most peaks that are being scaled. 

"How Tourists Turned Mount Everest into a Dump" episode of Adam Ruins Everything

Beyond government cleanliness drives and the local implementations of the Swacchh Bharat Mission, as well as the scope of Sustainable Tourism [UNEnvironment  and the UN World Tourism Organization defines it as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”] and Sustainable Mountain Tourism, some individuals, mountain community organizations, sustainable tour operators and experiential travel guides and NGOs in India's popular hill-stations are tackling the trash problems by involving the tourists, their local hosts, and tour operators in the mountains and healing the gentle giants. Helping tourists leave behind only good memories and footprints not trash. Efforts to leave the mountains better than they found it!

Sustainable Mountain Tourism Innovations from India and Beyond

They are taking the concept  of plogging [a combination of jogging with picking up litter (merging the Swedish verbs plocka upp (pick up) and jogga (jog).] and the program like the Plastic Whale tours of Amsterdam's canals and integrating it with rock climbing, mountaineering, boating in lakes in the hill stations as well as trekking and hill hiking. They are even offering mountain clean-up opportunities as a tourist activity that mustn't be missed, harnessing the power of #FOMO (fear of missing out). Some even consciously market it to tourists committed to green travels and sustainable tours as a means to offset their ecological footprint (or carbon offset). By including tree plantation drives into such mountain clean-up they bolster afforestation in tourist traps where development to cater to the tourist trade has led to deforestation and unsustainable development leading to more instances of landslides, mudslides and flash floods, not to mention unchecked avalanches without the barriers of shrubs and trees. 

Such innovators include Northern Sikkim community organization Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC), Healing Himalayas founded by Pradeep Sangwan as well as many eco-trekking, envirotreks (like in Europe), and mountain cleanup organizing people and NGOs. Individuals also use the power of social media to promote sensitive, conscious and sustainable visits to ecological fragile places that have morphed into must-see places on tourist agendas. Corporate Social Responsibility projects (e.g., Nestle in Dalhousie) have also been successful in cleaning up hill stations through community awareness programs, popular tourist and community clean-up drives with maximum participation organized through viral social media calls for participation through well-funded PR, promo and incentives.

On the Tibetan Plateau in Ladhak the choking of tourist spots follows the same trajectory as in any other hill station tourist trap. While there are many innovative clean-up initiatives, a tourist wing Police Officer from Leh recently went viral with his "Compassionate Plea to Tourists to keep Ladakh Clean" Officer Sonam ardently pled with tourists visiting places like Pangong Lake [Highland Grass Lake] to keep Ladakh clean and pollution free:

Thus, though there is still trash troubles atop tourist, trekking and climbing hot-spots, there are many innovative methods in place in pockets tackling it very effectively.