There is nothing worse than spending time on your favourite trail or at your favourite campsite or beach amongst a load of trash. Even more, proper environmental stewardship is about more than just trash. It is no great secret that humans have a drastic, and oftentimes negative, impact on the environment we call home. Consider that we are currently in the throes of what many consider to be a mass extinction; with millions of animal and plant species on the brink, even the smallest individual efforts can make a huge difference.
This is where you come in, especially if you are a trekker (and we don’t mean lover of Star Trek).
Trekking generally consists of an extended journey across various terrain types, usually accompanied by a porter. While trekking culture varies from country to country, the purpose is usually the same: It is about the journey, rather than the destination. The point is to travel at a modest pace and enjoy the sights, scenery, and local culture. Yet, trekking can leave an unfortunate footprint on the communities hosting the trekkers. The key to preventing yourself from becoming an unfortunate trekking statistic is to teach yourself how to trek sustainably.
What is Sustainable Trekking?
Sustainability is a big buzzword these days, and it can be attached to just about anything. Sustainable power. Sustainable eating. Sustainable tourism. These are just a few examples. Yet, the attachment is appropriate because just about anything can be done sustainably. Sustainability is the process of maintaining change in a balanced environment. This could also equate to maintaining a balanced environment during a process of change, something we all can admit is certainly happening.
Sustainable trekking, therefore, is the act of ensuring you are keeping the environment your trekking through as maintained as possible. There are several ways you can do this, whether it be through using specific products, modifying your behaviours, or maintaining a conscientious approach. Over-tourism is putting pressure on ecosystems around the globe, but you can play a part in positive change. Here’s how:
Harvest Your Own Rainwater or Use a Filter
Resources are scarce as you trek through the mountains. In many cases, porters must travel quite far to obtain water for trekkers. Given the perilous and sometimes treacherous terrain and weather, this can be not just a tedious process, but a dangerous one. Even worse, the temptation to bring plastic bottles of water may arise. While you likely don’t intend on discarding those bottles on the ground, why take the chance? Sustainability and plastic are two words that rarely go together.
Prevent this by researching ways to set up a rainwater collection system around your campsite. There are also methods for setting up groundwater collection systems, which work well when combined with a filter. Speaking of water filters, there are many types of water filters that are inexpensive and lightweight, while providing for hundreds of thousands of uses. Even a small stream can provide vital drinking water when a simple filter is present.
Sustainable Hygiene and Waste Options
Obviously, you must wash while on a long trek, lest your fellow trekkers suddenly start maintaining their distance from you. So, how do you ensure the items you bring are good for the environment? Whether it be dishwashing bars, toothpastes, hand washing soap, shampoo, or otherwise, when you shower, these products leech into the soil. Research natural alternatives before hitting the trail. You can even use ash instead of soap as a dishwashing alternative.
You’ll also need to answer the phone when nature calls. For many, handling their business in the wilderness can seem quite daunting. Trekkers generally use the cat-pit system, which involves digging a deep pit and placing a tent around it. Yet, you can ensure the soil benefits from your… er… waste. Instead of covering the pit with soil after using it, try using coco-peat, or dry powdered coconut husk. It is rich in carbon and makes a great compost pit for kitchen waste. That’s a two-for-one sustainable trekking tip right there!
Leave Only Your Footprints
This may seem like an obvious tip, but please, clean up after yourself. Responsible and sustainably trekking involves leaving the environment as you found it. And as trekkers usually travel in groups, don’t hesitate to let your fellow trekkers know if they are trekking irresponsibly. Leaving the environment the way you found it is also about more than just cleaning up after yourself; it is about thinking ahead. Minimize waste by not bringing along items that have a ton of packaging.
Degradable waste and leftover food are also bad for the local environment. Many trekkers assume that if it is biodegradable, it is fine to be thrown on the ground. Instead, this kind of waste can be safely burned or buried in a hole that is at least 15 centimetres deep.
Sustainable Trekking Shouldn’t be Merely an Option
That’s right. If you are a trekker, don’t consider trekking sustainably as something that is simply an option. Be a responsible steward of the wilderness by making it a given. Politely encourage your porters and local guides to adopt eco-friendly and sustainable initiatives. Even more, act as an example and show them that westerners are concerned about the environments they trek within. In many cases, a trek can last several weeks. Don’t be last minute about your planning when you will be trekking for so long.
Most importantly, spread the word about your sustainable trekking practices. Are you active on social media? Do you return home to share pictures and videos of your amazing adventures? Take a moment to highlight your sustainable chops to your audience. By sharing your knowledge, other travellers and friends and family back home may make changes themselves next time they are enjoying the splendour of nature.
Be the change you want to see in others and always remember, the best route to change is through exchange! Lead by example through proud, sustainable trekking!