Maggi or the Mountains, What Will You Choose?

When I started working for Indiahikes in June 2017 as a Green Trails Intern on the Roopkund slope, I was amazed at the amount of trash we were removing from the mountains.

Every day, more and more sacks of unwanted mountain garbage would come down to us at base camp, waiting to be sorted and sent to the environmentally-correct destination. That meant that nearly every day, my coworkers and I were knee deep in muddy, sometimes maggot-filled waste, separating banana peels from crumpled up aluminum foil, and empty whiskey bottles from old torn up t-shirts, and so on.

I might be the odd-one-out here, but I absolutely loved it! It was so fulfilling to see the sorted and weighed bags pile up as the internship went on. Ultimately, we removed over 3,000 kg of waste from Roopkund in just one summer!

Is cleaning up trails really enough?

As much as I loved my work, I couldn’t help thinking that this was like putting a band-aid on the issue, rather than preventing the wound in the first place. I constantly wondered, “what could be done to prevent this waste from ending up in the mountains?”

And that’s when it occurred to me that we needed to figure out what was in our waste before we could figure out how to cut it off at the source. Thus was born the “Himalayan Waste Audit of Summer 2017!

The idea was simple. Instead of sorting our waste and sending it right away, we would analyze what was coming down to us from the mountains to understand which companies and which types of products were responsible for the greatest percentage of litter. Once we knew that information, perhaps we could create a more focused strategy to limit those sources of waste entering the precious mountain landscapes to begin with.

indiahikes green trails - maggi in the mountains
We segregated waste according to the brands / products to understand where all the waste was coming from

Himalayan Waste Audit, Summer 2017

We conducted this audit at two locations, Hampta Pass and Roopkund. We did this in places 765 km apart in order to avoid any localized trash patterns.

When bags of waste were brought down from the mountains, instead of mindlessly segregating them, we diligently recorded the manufacturer and type of each product to discern waste patterns. We chose to audit only “identifiable plastics,” meaning any type of plastic wrapper that had a brand name on it. This is because plastics cause the most harm to the mountain ecosystems.

Following this process, we audited 5,243 pieces of identifiable plastics at Hampta Pass and Roopkund. Some of the results were quite shocking. You can see the full results of the audit in the table below.

*Waste count does not include numbers from Roopkund audit. These companies did not fall in the top 10 waste producers and thus were not recorded. Total waste from these companies in the Roopkund audit was less than 25 pieces.

What we learnt from the Audit results

There are several takeaways from these results. For the purpose of this article, I’m going focus more on Nestle. Let us consider these facts:

  • Nestlé was responsible for 20.2% of all pieces of waste that we audited. This means slightly over 1 out of 5 plastic wrappers you pick up in the mountains is a Nestlé product.
  • The vast majority of Nestlé products were noodle and chocolate bar wrappers. These are much larger in size when compared to hard candy wrappers. Parle, the number two polluter, which represented half the amount of waste of Nestlé, was nearly 61% hard candy wrappers.
  • Nestlé came in first in both audits, with 18.6% of waste at Roopkund, and 20.7% of waste at Hampta. The 2.1% difference between the two audits was amongst the smallest differences of any company at the two sites, meaning that this is in no way a localized phenomenon.
  • The total weight of Nestlé’s waste was 3.25 kg across both audits. That represents 1.46% of the 221.94 kg of waste we removed from the mountains for this project (including all waste: glass, metal, plastics, etc.) On average, Indiahikes removes roughly 12,000 kg of waste from the mountains annually. Extrapolating with the percentages from this audit, that means that we’re removing around 175 kg of Nestlé waste alone from the Himalayas each year. And finally,
  • There were 616 Maggi Noodle wrappers discovered in the audit. Just that product alone represents 11.75% of all waste audited, nearly a full percentage point higher than the 10.8% of the next closest manufacturer, Parle.

All of these numbers astounded me, but that last fact literally made my jaw drop. The fact that one product alone is so responsible for Himalayan waste left me awe struck, for two reasons.

One, because it is so unfortunate that our desire to eat Maggi noodles on a trek is stronger than our desire to experience the purest beauty of the mountains on a trek.

Two, because by focusing on changing just one eating habit of trekkers, we could cut off 11.75% of Himalayan waste at the source – what an incredible opportunity!

indiahikes green trails - maggi mountains
We found most of the waste to be of products by Nestle, followed by Parle, which was half of what Nestle was producing

Is it really possible to reduce waste at source in the Himalayas?

But we can’t make use of this opportunity alone. We need the help of every single person who has ever come on a trek with us. We need you to look deep inside yourself, and make a choice, “Maggi or the Mountains?

I won’t lie. There are few things better than slurping down a hot plate of fresh Maggi noodles after a long, cold, and tiring day in the mountains.

But it just so happens that one of those things is being able to experience the mountains free of trash, in the way they’ve been for the last few million years – in the way they’re meant to be. And no matter how much you love Maggi, I bet you won’t argue with that.

So, if you’re on a trek with us, with another company, or on your own, we sincerely ask you to resist the urge to go over to the dhaba and order a plate of Maggi. It might seem absolutely harmless in the moment, but chances are that the person running the dhaba cannot afford to send his waste out of the mountains. Which means, that Maggi wrapper will either end up contaminating soils, harming wildlife, and polluting waterways, or being burned in a trash pile and releasing toxins into the air we breathe.

And I wouldn’t blame you if you’re wondering now, “If I don’t get it, someone else is going to, so what difference is it going to make?” Well, the answer is, the only way it is ever going to make a difference is if enough people begin to choose the mountains over Maggi. This starts with each individual, AKA you.

The principle of supply and demand is as simple as: if fewer people buy Maggi, fewer dhabas will sell it, leading to fewer yellow plastic wrappers infiltrating your trek. And I know that is something we would all like it see.

So, the choice is yours. What will it be, “Maggi or the Mountains?”

*** Urging trekkers to avoid Maggi is just one result of this waste audit. Indiahikes is also planning to contact the CSR departments of these companies and urge them to get more involved with the fight against Himalayan pollution, and to become a greater part of the solution, rather than the problem. If you’re interested in learning more, or getting involved in this effort, contact us at [email protected]

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14 thoughts on “Maggi or the Mountains, What Will You Choose?

  1. Thank you for being a responsible company providing experiences that will last over generations..This is an awesome initiative to educate the people who come to these mountains to experience the pure unadulterated nature and would help them to ensure to keep the mountains clean and green for the next generation. It would be wonderful if we all realised that we don’t own this land or this planet ,we have been given our time to live here and sustain ourselves and it is our duty not to take away or destroy the land but preserve it for people who will live here after us.

  2. Excellent and informative article!
    What if people could find a way around and help themselves with the delicacies AND help the local people?
    We at IH always have those eco green bags at our disposal. One can always carry off(atleast) one maggi wrapper down the mountain. Some people may not do so, but then there’d be people like you and me who would merrily agree to carry down a 100!
    What I’m strictly against is nice looking hotels and chicken steaks being served atop mountains. It takes away the feel of a “trek” per se.
    A cup of tea or maggi wouldn’t really hurt the sentiments of most 😉

  3. First off, thank you for taking the time out to give us such a detailed article filled with information. I am glad that more and more people are being educated because of this article. It is a very important topic and high time that someone brings it to our notice. We all have to do our bit in every way possible, big or small. Efforts matter. As travelers and as dwellers of this planet, it is our duty to protect it, nurture it. On the similar tangent I have written a small article too, you can read it here.
    Keep up the good work and keep inspiring more and more people.

    1. Interesting result and worrying too. What food do you suggest during mountain trek when I threw up even at the thought of rice dal.During Gomukh trek I purchased Harsil apples which were satisfying my hunger and thirst. But one is not lucky to get fresh fruits every where.

  4. Not at all surprising. I am happy that Indiahikes are advising trekkers against plastics in hills. But is it enough, for all I know Indiahikes is a small proportion. For an effective impact, all the trekking organizations needs to team up and advise all their trekkers. Also, effective policy change by government and NGOs for garbage collection, segregation and handling in each and every village would help our mountains. Otherwise this drive , although would make trekkers feel good that they are helping mountains, may be an illusion of the actuality.

  5. The bulk of visitors to the ‘as yet untouched’ mountains are amateur trekkers guided by trekking companies likes yours. For a very long time I have felt the need for the companies to carefully choose the people they take along with them on treks.

    A person who is likely to buy a mineral water bottle at the last town before the base camp is someone who shouldn’t be on the trek in the first place and sorting out such people through a basic pre-trek questionnaire is a task to be done seriously. This will in turn also let the trekkers know what’s expected of them. And a group of such ‘vetted’ people are more likely to refrain from activities that are detrimental to the mountains (like eating tons of chocolates and feeling their responsibility ends in having disposed it in the bin at the camp site, loud music and camp fires at night…)

  6. Article seemed like targeted at Nestle/Maggi !
    Come on, we can’t say ‘nestle was responsible’. Going by that logic, most of the hiking groups are responsible for the plastic mess in mountains (in fact they are!)’
    If we are to say “we sincerely ask you to resist the urge to go over to the dhaba and order a plate of Maggi” , then we should also rethink to trek any of our pristine mountains !

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not for all the plastic mess on the trails.
    How about this – next time you order a maggi at Dhabha , insist on the plastic wrapper to be given to us along with the Maggi ! So that we dispose it appropriately.

  7. Another option can be that each trekker insists that the maggi or any other food they purchase; the respective plastic wrappers be taken by them and kept with them till the end of the trek and discard it responsibly after reaching the nearest city. So it’s not that one group needs to clean the whole world’s trash, but we just be extra careful that we take away our maggi or chocolate wrappers from the respective dhaba or tea stall. These men live a difficult life and the dhaba is a source of income, maybe we can find a middle way than simply refusing their business.

  8. This is really an amazing initiative. I too have been part of this initiative at Roopkund during 2014, where we brought down lots of trash.
    We need to educate everyone including the locals to diligently work with trash.

  9. This whole idea is flawed at various levels. Although appreciating the effort you guys took to audit the waste from the mountains; it is equally absurd to read suggesting the manufacturing companies to take measures against their sale in the mountains. It may be well for me to suggest Indiahikes to take lesser and lesser people to the mountains so that there are fewer people and less waste. The idea should have rather focussed on bringing awareness amongst the people, the government and other trekking organisations to tackle the mountain waste. It is appreciable that you chose to sacrifice your food habits for the sake of mountains and suggest others to do so but at the same time how funny to not know that people eat what they want and wherever they get. If you have the reach, you can possibly device strict measures partnering with the government in bringing laws and protocols to regulate waste in the mountains. That, in my opinion, would make a good start.

  10. A better solution is to encourage maggi eaters to take the packet from the maker and carry it down with us while trekking.. not eating maggi is NOT the solution!

    1. Perfectly agree with RK (Dec 15, 2017), “Not eating maggi is NOT the solution”. What all will you not take, soaps, chips, gutkha, water bottles, you just name it. The solution is to ensure proper disposal. Encourage or incentivise the Dhaba’s to dispose the wrappers properly. Educate public to dispose waste properly. Provide eco-dust-bins at convenient locations. Sponsor garbage pick-up from remote dhaba’s and chai shops, As a India-Hike Trekker, I would not mind a small surcharge if the amount is used in eco friendly activities

  11. Your Initiative to reduce trash at mountains is good, but lacks pragmatism. Asking trekkers not to eat maggi is same as asking people not to go for trekking. Maggi or any brand wrapper is menace everywhere not just in Mountains. One cant squarely blame companies for the mess.
    Coming back to waste getting accumulated on trekking spots – you as a service provider must insist your trekker brings back the waste he or she carries. One must not be allowed to just throw the wrappers on the trail. He or she must bring back the wrappers to base camp site and show – where the waste can be managed better.
    Second – educate, enable and enforce the small shopkeepers to manage the waste what they use. On an organised trek, generally the individual does not carry lot of food, except few chocolate bars or few packs of nuts since organiser arranges the food, or he or she consumes what is available at Dhaba or tea stall.

  12. Few alternative thoughts :

    1. Can’t we approach Nestle or Parle to encourage environmental friendly wrapping, bio-degradable one. That will certainly increase price, still, who can afford paying 12, can pay 14..

    2. Encourage the company is bulk packaging. I have seen similar package containing 24-36 noodle cake.

    3. Introduction of re usable bigger containers, which can be later used by the shopkeepers/villagers in their shop/house. Reducing the possibility of dumping

    4. Incentives for the shopkeepers to send back the empty packets. Like return 10 empty packet to get 1 new pack. Later they need to dispose this, away from the mountain.