How We Manage Waste Collected On Our Treks

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.

green trails - eco-friendly trekking - indiahikes
All our trekkers participate in clean-up activities on trails and at campsites. Everyone does their bit to keep the trails clean.

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.

Students of IIM Indore work on waste plastic to make something useful out of them

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
green trails - waste segregation - lohajung - indiahikes
We try to segregate waste right at the source. Here is our waste disposal at Lohajung, the base camp of the Roopkund and Brahmatal treks

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.

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Segregated waste is disposed of accordingly. Most of the waste that cannot be upcycled or recycled by us is handed over to either a waste management organisation like Waste Warriors or to a garbage dump.

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.

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We compost all out wet waste using cocopeat to speed up the process

We also recycle and upcycle

upcycling - green trails - eco friendly trekking - indiahikes
Making recycled paper is something we’re trying to scale up to utilize waste paper on our treks

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.

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3 thoughts on “How We Manage Waste Collected On Our Treks

  1. Good initiative. I remember meeting a young sadhu near Pindari Glacier Zero Point who used to collect old glass bottles from the trail and just keep them in his hut. When I met him in 1999 he had quite a small mountain of glass bottles. I wonder what happened to him or his collection.

  2. Very happy to see you guys helping to keep our mother nature clean and healthy.
    Brilliant ideas!! Keep rocking!!

    Arvind. N

  3. Yes, certainly a great great mission:
    “Leave the trail cleaner than you found”
    I remember we were given the Eco bag during our Rupin pass trek, its quite a good idea to provide that back as waist wrap, lese we certainly wouldn’t have bothered to bend down and then take our shoulder back off to keep the trash.
    I also remember how this waste collection helped me in the same trek itself, leave about the future returns or so:
    While I was trekking I found a ring of aluminum wire, I picked up and put it into my eco bag to be disposed later at camp site.
    But soon at a halt, I found that one of our fellow trekkers had got his shoe’s soul warped and he was looking for something to tie that soul to the shoe and to his foot till he reach the camp and get it glued.
    See how quick the rewards are.