Samuel Johns (Geography, 2008)
Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. More like ra ra ra – we’ve heard this so many times – we feel we’re being repurposed ourselves. What is with all this recycling? What does upcycling even mean?
Take a stroll late in the evening in your neighbourhood, no matter where you live – whether in the dusty streets of Kathmandu, or London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin – and you’ll be sure to see streets lined with plastic packets, disposed wrappers, and likely the odd PET bottle too. Before the early morning sweepers get to their dues, the streets often house our litter. ‘Out of sight is out of mind’ – so the saying goes – and so we consume this, bin that, litter just another small packet. What harm can it do? One small packet isn’t exactly the 3 million tonnes of plastic waste that we, globally, produce every single day – is it?
Our mindset is deeply shaped by a ‘cradle to grave’ mentality. Disposability is not so much the issue, interestingly, it is something more profound. Our psyche quite literally believes the aphorism that ‘out of sight is out of mind’ – so once we see it no longer, the problem is solved. Or at least, our responsibility is absolved. But is that the case? Environmentalist and activist Annie Leonard isn’t quite so sure. She argues that ‘there is no such thing as “away” – when we throw anything “away” it must go “somewhere”.
Enter the moment to rethink our future. Is this somebody else’s problem? Or are we to take responsibility?
Since 2017 PSD Plastics – the social enterprise arm of PSD Nepal – has been working in the Himalaya to boost a ‘cradle to cradle’ mindset for local waste management. With over 1 million annual tourists hiking, trekking and climbing in the Himalaya of Nepal – every year – you can imagine how large the local rubbish piles end up being. In Langtang National Park, our pilot project, over 200,000 PET plastic bottles are consumed every tourist season. With no infrastructure to manage waste – these would normally be jettisoned into the river and swept away to India.
How much are the Himalaya worth? It may be an interesting thought experiment to ponder this question – from freshwater reserves to tourism and travel – yet the reality of environmental care blows such a view to pieces. As activist Pete Seeger says – to take a radical stance. “If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted – then it should be restricted, designed or removed from production”.
As the slogan goes – and so we must remind ourselves – there is no Planet B.
PSD Plastics works in partnership with HLP recycling plant in Pokhara, Nepal, to recycle the plastic waste generated from the national parks of Nepal.
Watch an info-story on the work here.
Our documentary on plastic in the Himalaya is coming out Thursday, 27th August 4pm BST: