An Ethical Standard for Biodegradable Buddhist Flags

January 24, 2023

2022 Catalyst Wall Scholars Parisa Mehrkhodavandi, Rachel Scholes, Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, and Michelle Tseng have received funding through the PWIAS Collaboration Fund for a project that will test the degradability of a variety of Buddhist cultural prayer flags and scarves in order to help publish an ethical standard that can be self declared by monasteries, environmental agencies, adventure enterprises and mountaineering expeditions to demonstrate their commitment to not creating spiritual waste in the Himalayan region.

Prayer flags (Lungta) and scarf offerings (Khata) are Buddhist cultural objects are used in ceremonial and social events, as well as mountain summits, pilgrimage sites, trecking routes and mountaineering rituals across the Himalayas. Since the 1970s these items have been generated using non-degradable synthetic materials and made widely available through large scale industrial production. Disposal of these every day cultural products is now a serious issue not only in the Himalayas but around the world.

Working with Utpala Craft, a Nepal-based organization that produces biodegradable Lungta/Khata, the project will test:

  • components of current non-degradable materials used in a range of products
  • degradability of current non-degradable products
  • degradability of Utpala Craft’s products
  • ability of insects to consume Utpala Craft’s material

The Wall Scholars and their partners will develop relationships with the Nepal Buddhist Federation, Nepal Mountaineering Association, Nepal Tourism Board, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, and the Nepal Conservation and Research Centre to acknowledge the significant environmental damaged caused by large material consumption of synthetic prayer flags and to promote the ethical standard developed — which will be the first-ever published in Nepal.