The Himalayan Cleanup was organised to focus attention on the problem of waste in the mountains, specifically single use plastic waste. The Himalayan region, long been portrayed as sacred, pristine and untouched, has a flip side too, of plastic clogged waterways, waste being rolled down hill sides and burnt. The mountains are severely challenged with an ever-increasing problem of waste accumulation which is compounded by the fact that many areas in mountain regions are popular tourist destinations, tourism being a major creator of waste. The Himalayan Cleanup aims to bring this growing issue to the fore, through a day dedicated to not only cleaning up our mountains, but also in understanding what is causing the mess.
The Cleanup was carried out simultaneously on May 26, 2019 across the mountain states of India following a uniform guideline, through support and participation of various Government, Non-Government Organisations and individuals.
The cleanup process provided a space for participants to get their hands dirty and reflect on the challenges of existing consumption patterns and waste. It is hoped that the campaign conducted simultaneously across the mountains will generate enough participation and publicity to bring the mountain’s waste issues to the forefront of the nation’s attention. It will enable the strengthening of a core group of people who will take the zero-waste movement beyond the cleanup. Just knowing what is in our trash is a great place to begin the journey of zero waste, one that will provide insights into what are the kind of items that need to be reduced in the long run.
The Himalayan level data generated that is being planned to be presented on World Environment Day could form valuable inputs to any policy level exercise or towards advocating for extended producer responsibility with companies whose products create maximum waste in the mountains. It shall ultimately lead to the development of a vision for the mountain states in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals, 2030.
Based on our experience with THC 2018, we have adopted Namnang View Point to improve the sanitation in that zone. This site would also be selected for the Mega Himalayan Cleanup in 2020. At the time we will be releasing data on % reduction in waste ( if any).
The highest collected waste were PET Bottles (124), Chips Packets (859) and cigarette packets (132). To all the volunteers’ dismay, a dictionary was also found.
Of the collected 8 sacks of waste (18 kgs), only 3 are accepted by scrap dealers of Gangtok. To dispose of the remaining waste, the team searched for the nearest dustbin, so that the municipality truck could take it away. There wasn’t a single dustbin in the entire viewpoint and the nearest one was near the parking lot of Sikkim Legislative Assembly. While Sikkim is the cleanest state in India, the very area where the laws are made, lacks the proper provision of effective waste management. What started as an exercise of advocating for corporates to take up their responsibility of taking back their waste, ended up in revealing the sheer apathy of both the citizens and the government to make Sikkim clean.
Our state of Sikkim has a new government with a new vision, but no matter who the leader is, no matter what the changes are, ultimately democracy comes alive only with the active engagement of its citizens. The true leaders are not the ones elected, but we the people. Instead of playing a blame game, it is very much our responsibility to join hands with the government and contribute to make our community better. With this initiative, the team hopes that the youth have a say in the policies of the state, which would lead to a clean, green and beautiful Sikkim.
NEED FOR EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY
2018 and 2019 made us realize that more than big brands, it's the local brands of Sikkim that are creating plastic, for which there is no solution in Sikkim as of now. Brands like Triptis(LDPE), Wai Wai (MLP) and Sukhim Sparkle ( PET) stood out the most in their respective categories.
Moving forward, our efforts would be focussed towards driving EPR within the mountains itself.