Plastic Bag Initiative

Monday, November 14, 2016

One goal that we hold across all facets of our organization - be it the Kopila Valley Home, School, or Women’s Center - is sustainability. We devote lots of time, energy, and resources into making sure that our impact is sustainable. Jamie, our Director of Sustainable Living, is charged with ensuring that all of our practices on the ground in Nepal are as sustainable as possible.

One issue that pervades life in Surkhet is waste management. Although there are municipal waste management facilities, they're available as a paid service, and as a result the vast majority of the families and businesses living in the local area have little choice but to find alternative means of disposing of their trash. The most common solution, unfortunately, is burning it.

Plastic is the biggest issue. Nepal uses Western styles of packaging without the waste management facilities to recycle or process it. Food is sold in plastic packaging, toiletries in plastic containers, and local stores all give out plastic bags.

The result is that every evening people, often children, will sit on the roadside outside their houses trying to set piles of plastic on fire. This is obviously a health hazard, not only for the families that burn plastic by their front doors, but also the community as a whole. Plumes of acrid smoke can be seen drifting across the skyline every evening around sunset.

Sustainable can mean many things: sustainable for the local community, the economy, and environmentally sustainable. We have to ensure that our impact is as sustainable as possible in all aspects.

With this in mind, Jamie has been working closely with the Women’s Center to pioneer a new green initiative. Unlike the plastic bags which are prevalent, the Women’s Center now gives out a small canvas bag with every purchase made. The bags are made by the women at the center, and stored in the shop front. During this pilot stage we are giving away the bags for free; in the future the initiative may be updated to include a small charge to cover the cost of manufacturing.

This project grew from one of Jamie’s earlier initiatives, in which all of the Kopila Valley staff were given access to large canvas bags to carry groceries and other goods, reducing the need to bring plastic bags and packaging back to the school and home. This was so successful that discussion was opened with the Women’s Center management team.

We hope that other local stores will see how valuable this project is, and going forward choose to take part in the initiative. One obvious benefit - aside from environmental - is that the canvas bags are much more durable and can be used many times each before they wear out, meaning that not only are the bags environmentally friendly, but may also be cost effective.

Our dream is that one day every store in Surkhet will hand out our canvas bags instead of plastic, and that eventually the plastic trash fires will disappear.

 

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