Stop the ALPs becoming Plastic Mountains, Italy

The European Research Institute (ERI) is a non-profit organisation that works to promote research and experimentation for innovation in scientific and social fields. Its main objective is to improve the environment, economic, and cultural conditions of European citizens and promote respect for the territory and the living being.

The aim of the ALP project is to safeguard high alpine habitat, one of the last pristine environments in southern Europe.  It is home to precious ungulates, carnivores, birds, flowers, and plants. Working with 4 very different alpine mountain huts (size, location, accessibility, numbers of visitors) the project will develop and pilot a strategy with each one to eliminate single use plastic items, which can then be shared and implemented with other huts via a workshop and information brochure. This will be combined with 15 clean up events along 150km of trail, lake shores, alpine meadows, screes and around huts, an education training programme involving hiking and alpine guides, park staff, local schools, the tourism sector and institutions. They will also create an app to encourage people to continue the clean ups independently.

With many thanks to EOCA member CUMULUS, who held an online garage sale during Green Friday 2020, and donated the amount raised towards the grant given to this project.

With many thanks to EOCA member DEUTER, who held an online Green Friday 2020 fundraiser and made a donation towards the grant given to this project.’

And with many thanks also to SALEWA for their generous donation to this project.

The Update

Much work was carried out over the winter months preparing communications for the summer months and working with the mountain huts that are involved with this project. Other huts are being included and kept informed as the project progresses, with the intention that processes trialled in the initial 4 huts can be implemented elsewhere. A number of objects such as plastic bottles, single use cutlery and crockery have been eliminated and other examples of biodegradable / reusable items such as cleaning sponges and films for food processing are being tested for effectiveness and hygiene.

Training activities for nature and tourist guides, park operators and workers have been carried out, as well as 14 clean up events with over 130 volunteers and 114km of trails cleaned. More clean up events are planned over the summer months, as well as ongoing surveys on the presence of microplastics in the snow.

Final update:
This project completed its goals successfully and carried out 23 hikes over 197km’s of trail, undertook 15 clean-ups involving 238 volunteers who collected 98kgs of waste. Snow samples were also taken to analyse for the presence of microplastics. Most of the plastic waste collected was closely linked to human activities: fragments of hiking or mountaineering equipment (pieces of boots, poles or rackets, pieces of rucksacks or ropes), food and drink packaging, as well as remnants of farming and pastoral activities.

Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the project was still able to carry out its planned education and training events, either in person or online. Education involved 8 schools (primary and secondary), 33 classes, and engaged with 660 students. In many cases, teachers were amazed by the attention and participation of the children, some of whom have push for change in their daily activities, e.g., changing from the use of plastic water bottles, better waste management, and attention to choices being made when shopping. 19 training events were carried out over 56 hours and involved 380 people, including hiking and tourist guides, mountain hut managers, park operators and representatives of the tourism sector.

Initial plans to create an app had to be abandoned due to the poor internet coverage in the mountains. This was replaced with a project video-minidocumentary which will also be used in future education and training activities. See the video here.

The four mountain huts involved in this project have eliminated plastic bottles for water and eliminated single-use plastics such as cutlery and crockery (with the single exception of jam containers in one hut due to health regulations). They have also successfully converted to the use of natural, biodegradable sponges in place of plastic sponges which degrade and cause microplastics to enter the water cycle.

The valuable work of the ERI is being continued through their project CleanALP – Protect and clean our mountains, sponsored by The North Face Explore Fund, so watch this website for further updates.

Image: Mountain Huts in Snow