Day Three, 8th Khoryug Conference
24th March, 2017
Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya
On the third day of the 8th Khoryug Conference, participants turned their attention to the topic of waste management, an issue that is faced by monasteries and nunneries across the Himalayas as one of the most difficult environmental problems to solve.
Khoryug advisor, Dekila Chungyalpa, explained how the development of a cash economy and globalization has adversely affected regions such as the Himalayas by disrupting the traditional ways of life which produced very little waste. Although Himalayan people produce relatively small amounts of waste compared to those in developed countries, in the Himalayas the problem is not so much the volume of waste as the lack of infrastructure to dispose of it appropriately. The solution to the difficulties facing religious institutions in the Himalayan region therefore lies in reducing the amount of waste that is produced and maximizing what can be recycled, composted or otherwise repurposed.
Waste management refers to the collection, transport, processing or disposal, managing and monitoring of waste materials to minimize the consequences on humans and the environment.
In the Himalayas, the lack of infrastructure for waste disposal and recycling causes people to either burn their waste, bury it, litter or throw it in dumping sites where it often ends up in waterways. None of these options present a safe way for disposing waste.
Dekila focused particularly on the problem of plastic, one of the most pervasive and difficult forms of waste in the Himalayas. She emphasized that plastic could take millions of years to break down and its disposal often creates serious health risks for humans and animals. Two videos raised awareness of the ubiquitousness of plastic and the problems it creates both for the environment generally and specifically for the health of living beings.
In order to reduce waste, the monastery representatives were advised to “reduce, reuse and recycle.” This practice includes avoiding products that come in disposable plastic packaging, buying in bulk and using reusable products such as cloth shopping bags or reusable water bottles. They were also encouraged to institute waste segregation in order to recycle and compost more of their waste. Effective waste segregation requires ongoing education on proper segregation methods and clear systems of labeling and sorting.
Dekila further suggested that monastics should begin to explore the possibilities of upcycling. Upcycling requires a radical change of view: what would have been seen as disposable waste is seen instead as useful and productive. Examples include making bags out of plastic waste, using plastic bottles as building materials instead of brick, and using plastic bottles to create solar lighting systems for interior use during daytime.
Nuns from Tek Chok Ling Nunnery in Nepal gave a demonstration of how they use plastic waste to produce items for sale such as place mats, containers and bags. They are able to sell these products to raise funds to support the work of the nunnery while simultaneously decreasing the amount of waste they send to the landfill. Through their segregation initiative they have successfully reduced their amount of landfill waste by over 50%.
Their presentation was followed in the afternoon by India Country Coordinator Lama Thinlay of Bokar Monastery in Mirik, West Bengal. He presented on the monastery’s new waste segregation center which they built in 2016. Whereas the monastery used to burn all of its trash before the project, they now segregate their waste into five categories and are able to maximize the amount they can sell as recycling or turn into compost. The project is already demonstrating promising results. Lama Thinlay explained that in only 8 months of the center being active they have earned over INR 13,000 and recouped 23% of their investment. In addition, they are able to process the waste from their immediately surrounding lay community and have completely stopped burning trash, protecting the health and well-being of themselves, their community and the local environment.