The stench of rotten garbage breeding inside a sea of black plastic rises from the murky river waters. Dogs try to lap a drink, but meekly retreat unable to satisfy their thirst. The flow from upstream becomes clogged, entangled in dams of food scraps, discarded bottles and decomposing paper mountains. Embedded in the feeble footpath that snakes along the bank, wisps of white and black catch your eye, relics of a daily shop some three years prior. A passerby looks disapprovingly at the mess below, covers their face with a scarf, scrambles by and then breathes a sigh of relief. The sigh is inherently also one of complacency, for it is their garbage too poisoning the river, it is their choices ultimately contributing to this environmental degradation.
Across town in Jhamsikhel, a small but dedicated team is working on creating newspaper carry bags and 100% recycled paper products. The store, Jamarko, seems a world away from the inescapable pollution that saturates Kathmandu and her environs. Yet within the confines of the small wooden shop revolution is taking place. It is environmentalism and recycling at its best. Specialising in handmade recycled paper goods, it is possible to see how waste can be transformed into practical use. Notepads, journals, writing paper, envelops, stationary, lampshades, paper curtains, cards, coasters, photo frames, gift wrap and gift bags are among the main recycled paper products. The store also carries a selection of mostly handmade giftware utilising natural fibres such as hemp bags, corn husk dolls, husk stools and felt laptop bags. The product designs reflect a refined and simple elegance.
Although established in 2001 Jamarko initially ran out of its factory site in Galkopakha. Now, after 10 years of operation, a space has emerged for this pioneering eco-business to enter the mainstream. The showroom itself is a reflection an intimate niche market of overseas visitors and environmentally conscious Nepali youth. A 2010 study by the Dept. of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Kathmandu University reveals that, beyond being a trendy fad, recycling is also a form of income generation and employment, particularly for low income earners. Indeed Jamarko’s social entrepreneurship extends to employing disadvantaged women, the disabled and street children. Rural communities also benefit from their work in producing Lokta paper products. The specialised and made to order Lokta paper products generates the financial stability for Jamarko to pursue more localised recycling objectives.
The reach of Jamarko’s message is, however, beyond recycling paper and reducing plastic waste. The parable lies deep within the heart of a movement to create a sustainable, safe and more liveable environment. It lies within the passion and commitment of a dedicated few who can see beyond today, envisioning a cleaner and greener tomorrow. It lies within their belief that every little bit counts. Looking down at the river or into a field littered with waste, it is hard to find the motivation to change entrenched practices. Ignore the masses. Do your bit. Lead by example. Jamarko, after all, is effort.
Every one of us has the potential to put in the effort and become one of those few. It doesn’t take much; Simple decisions like refusing a plastic bag for small goods which could be easily stowed in the backpack or handbag you are carrying; Popping in a reusable shopping sack in your everyday bag so when you are at the store, even on unplanned occasions, you are prepared with an alternative to plastic; Recycling paper products such as newspapers, bygone study notes or that empty biscuit box from afternoon tea; Setting up a small recycling station at home, work or college and once a week dropping the paper of at Jamarko or a similar concept store. Change is within everybody’s means. When will you start?