Saturday, November 21, 2009


Glorious shot of Everest in the ancient Himalayas, clear and warm weather showing the pristine flanks of the peaks. Except - take a look closer. Down in the trekking and climbing trails, lots of refuse: discarded plastic bottles, sleeping mats, foil packets, the usual human refuse which marks the eons-old habits of instant disposal that informs many an archeological dig. Unfortunately this refuse is made of plastic and nondegradable materials that should be carried out under a policy of zero tolerance for refuse and waste, much as is done in the USA's Grand Canyon in order to preserve what natural properties remain of the ecosystem.

The roads and trails of Nepal and India are littered with refuse, particularly since the products of Western societies have invaded a continent that is not prepared for the onslaught of non-biodegradable or burnable materials. The enzymes and the micro organisms responsible for breaking down organic materials that occur naturally such as plants, dead animals, rocks and minerals, don’t recognise plastics and polymers. What formerly broke down quickly now lasts for hundreds of years, eventually breaking down into polymers that contaminate the biosphere by introducing hormone-disrupting compounds into the environment.

In a society where refuse (and corpses!) are burned out in the open, this creates serious problems of not just pollution, but a cycle of disruption of the food chain, ultimately concentrating at the top of it, where the predators (human, mammal and fish) concentrate these chemical disruptors and experience the effects on the endocrine system that create systemic disorders. With the understanding that cultural shifts are not desirable throughout the globe, and that local cultures should be presereved, it's imperative to respect the indigenous practices and not contaminate their environment with oil-based polymers. This plastic pollution eventually ends up in the Pacific oceanic landfills known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches; huge accumulations of plastic that ultimately end up on the shores of many countries and destroys life in the ocean and on the ocean floor. Banning the worldwide production of plastic bags and containers would be a very constructive first step.

One hopeful development is the production of biodegradable packages and products, using corn, soy, and possibly hemp-based materials so that these materials break down quickly and are beneficial to recycle or burn in the traditional fashion. Implementing a recycling system into a culture that is still living very rurally without any infrastructure is not a viable solution, so it becomes the responsiblity of the global manufacturers and the government to make certain that this problem doesn't continue.

It's disheartening to see this beautiful country begin to resemble the dirty highways full of trash that are endemic to Western culture, and to see that its environment is becoming irreversibly contaminated.