VSO Nepal Goes Green

Volunteers reports on VSO Nepal’s latest green initiative.

by Rex T., Edited by Stephen Massey, and with the help of Hilary Wright.

Last September, VSO Nepal made a bold decision to ban the use of plastic bags within the office premise. Although causing extra inconvenience and being initially unpopular with some staff and volunteers, the decision was morally an easy one to make.

PC310793 Staff and volunteers who venture to the office each day do not have to look very far to see the environmental consequences of society’s addiction to plastic. The nearby Bagmati River, a river that splits Kathmandu from Lalitpur and is considered a “holy river” both by Hindus and Buddhists, is literally choked with plastic refuse. The sad visual display is part of everyone’s morning commute to work – a constant visual reminder that plastic bags are detrimental to not only our natural environment but to our overall health and well-being.

So when our programme support manager suggested, “let us just ban plastic bags in the office all together”, although people were astonished at first (myself included), we quickly realized that it was the most common-sense thing to do.

A month or so later, anyone working or visiting the VSO Nepal office found themselves unable to bring plastic bags onto the premises. If any one does, or accidentally forgets that they brought one, they are asked to check the plastic bags at the guard post. There is even a prominent sign mounted on the gate depicting the office’s commitment to banning plastic bags in order to protect the environment.

Some might say that this ban is extreme and an inconvenience. Some people have even challenged the credibility of the ban and have brought up points about purchasing products that use excess plastic packaging or even purchasing milk that comes in plastic pouches. I can even imagine people have been thinking “How far will this ban go?”

PB130010In the end however, no-one can show that plastic bags are a good thing and we welcome the discussion that this ban has caused. In fact we want to see more of these types of discussions and debates, to force us to think critically about our work and lifestyle practices and how they impact on the environment. Staff and volunteers together have also started thinking about other issues such as energy, waste, and paper use reduction.

Since the ban, there has been a noticeable change in the office. The guards and kitchen staff now venture in and out of the office with reusable cloth bags and people often make it a game to spot and taunt anyone that accidentally brings one in (at least I do). As we all know, change can be difficult but it is slowly happening.

The banning of plastic bags was the first of many small steps to come – but also a symbolic gesture that sends a strong, thought-provoking message.

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Thoughts?