Any interaction with the fragile areas has its ill effects on the ecosystem of forests, mountains, glaciers, peaks, etc. but that does not mean that the effects cannot be managed and the ecosystem cannot be protected while continuing with the most thrilling activities like mountaineering, trekking, skiing, or rock climbing.
Step to Himalayas, as a community of passionate adventurers, is committed to maintaining the ecological balance in all ecosystems that we touch – be it the Himalayas, the Nilgiris or the Arawalis or for that matters any natural ecosystem. We are born and brought up around these mountains and have deep respect for them. The line may sound a bit cliché but it’s true! All our employees and guides understand the importance of human interference with the environment and are committed not just to protect but also conserve the ecosystems that we touch.
How we strive for zero “foot-print”
- Avoid Over-crowding
We recognize the fact that certain areas, especially in the Himalayas, are extremely popular and are already at risk of environmental damage because of the high numbers of visitors. So, avoiding over-crowding is the first principle that we follow. This is critical for most of our commitments because limiting the human footprint that hits any area simultaneously is the first step to allow Mother Nature to recover.
- Managing Waste Efficiently and Effectively
There are three types of waste that we manage:
- Bio-degradable Organic waste (Food, etc.) – First of all this is minimized to the extent possible. Our team is aware of the importance of food and especially in regions that are difficult to approach. We sensitize all our participants as well on this point and fortunately, this works best. We generate very fewer amounts of this waste due to the responsible behavior of our participants and we are thankful to them. Whatever waste of this nature is generated, is collected in pits that are dug deep enough (at least 3 feet) and covered with earth. This waste degenerates fast and can enrich the nearby vegetation with the nutrients that are available in the food waste.
- Toilet waste (Urinal & Latrine) – This is the trickiest waste to manage. We don’t have enough systems and processes in India as yet to collect such waste and deposit at suitable facilities. We have a two-pronged approach to manage this:
- Low altitude areas – In the areas that are low lying and we can find earth, we dig deep pits (4 X 2 X 1 ft) and cover the same with earth. This, we agree in not the ideal solution but accepted by the mountaineering authorities (NIM & IMF) in India as of now. We are also exploring the possibility of carrying back the waste in biodegradable bags but the problem is that most towns in the Himalayan states do not have sewers developed and the bags available are not good enough to carry back for long durations.
- High altitude areas – In the areas that are covered with extremely thick layers of snow, have rocky features or moraines or have glacial ice, and where digging earth is not possible, we carry the waste back in disposal bags. The bags are finally disposed of in earthen pits in the low-lying areas or into sewers wherever available.
- Non-Biodegradable (Plastic or Glass) waste – This is the most damaging waste for any ecosystem and becomes the biggest threat when it comes to areas as unreachable as the Himalayan terrains. We avoid plastic waste generation to the extent possible by using reusable steel or aluminum utensils for eating, avoiding candies and junk snacks packed in plastic wrappers. We also sensitize and encourage our participants to avoid usage of such material. Having said that, it’s not possible in today’s times to completely avoid plastic use, so we have a clear guideline on all our tours to carry back all plastic waste generated. We carry all waste of this nature back to the civilization and dispose of it in the dustbins organized to collect non-biodegradable waste (at the nearest available site).
- Keeping the water source clean
Our camps are carefully organized in order to keep the water sources free of contamination. Our team and participants are sensitized towards the precautions that are required while camping near the natural water sources. 3 major precautions, among others, that we take help us in maintaining the water sources clean:
- Toilet areas away from the water source
- No littering or dish/utensils washing near the water source
- Avoid any use of soap or chemical cleaners in the water stream.