Mountain people come together for The Himalayan Cleanup

Gangtok, 28 May:

The Himalayan Cleanup (THC) is an annual event conducted on 26 May across the Himalayan states of India by the Integrated Mountain Initiative and Zero Waste Himalaya. It was initiated in 2018 in conjunction to the ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ theme of World Environment Day. The main objective of the mass cleanup is to bring attention on the problem of waste in the mountains, specifically single use plastic waste, a press release informs.

In 2018, the Himalayan Cleanup cleaned up 250+ sites from the 12 Himalayan States, with participation of 15000+ volunteers mobilised by more than 200 organisations. It brought to fore the issue of waste in the mountains at the local, national and international level, through a day dedicated to cleaning up our mountains and understanding what is causing the mess. It highlighted the need for a mountain lens to waste management.

With the success of THC 2018; the solidarity and volunteerism across the 12 Himalayan States of India (IHR) and the focus it brought on waste, the cleanup was continued on May 26 across the IHR. This year the cleanup was organised across 10 Himalayan states with more 90 sites being cleaned up by around 80 organisations who mobilised around 5500 volunteers on 25–26 May, 2019.

Important sites that were cleaned up on the day were the PangongTso Lake in Leh (which at an altitude of 4,350 metres was the highest site cleaned), Tiger Hill and MahakalDara In Darjeeling, Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, Seven Sisters Waterfall and Tashi View Point in Sikkim along with many others towns and villages in Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.

The cleanup was organised following uniform protocols of conducting a waste audit and a brand audit after proper segregation of the collected waste was conducted. The main categories were PET bottles (water/ soft drink bottles/ oil), Multilayered plastic (chips/ biscuits/sweets/shampoo/gutka), TetraPak cartons (juice,milk,lassi), Other plastic items (shampoo jars/buckets/ containers), Single use plastic (plastic bags/straw/ plastic spoons/ plates/ styrofoam cups and plates), Glass bottles, Tins/ Cans and other metal items, Paper, Cloth/ Textiles, Others. The different categories of waste were then counted by numbers and also weighed separately. Brand audit was conducted for the branded plastic items, as the top polluting companies emerged during the cleanup, volunteers also took pictures of those waste and post on social media tagging the companies.

For disposal of the waste, all recyclables were given for recycling to the scrap dealers, and support from the Governments, Local bodies were sought for transport of the ultimate discards of the unsegregated waste to the nearest dumping site. Some resorted to make eco-bricks of multilayered plastic collected since there is no existing solution as yet. The Himalayan Cleanup was a zero waste event where no single use bottled water and packaged food was consumed by the volunteers.

The Himalayan level data generated forms valuable inputs to any policy level exercise and towards advocating for extended producer responsibility with companies whose products create maximum waste in the mountains.

The cleanup provided space for participants to get their hands dirty and reflect on the challenges of existing consumption patterns and waste so that they move towards sustainable lifestyles. With the campaign being conducted simultaneously across the mountain states, it generates enough participation and publicity to continue bringing the mountain’s waste issues to the forefront of the nation’s attention as well as influence community and local bodies waste management practices towards sustainability.

“I was shocked to discover how much waste we collected in such a short time, and this has made me very aware of my own action regarding the use of plastics now”, reflected Sonam a volunteer who had joined the cleanup at Tashi View Point.

Sikkim was a big part of The Himalayan Cleanup movement with cleanups organised at around 25 sites across the state with participation of various organisations, colleges and schools. At Tashi View Point, the cleanup was organised by the Zero Waste Himalaya along with participation of other organisations like WWF- India, ECOSS, GB Pant Institute, ATREE, BNHS, LingdokNampong GPU and many other volunteers. PET bottles and multilayered plastics were collected in largest numbers, and littering between Ganesh Tok and Tashi View Point was rampant as observed by the volunteers. Waste was also observed to be dumped in large volumes by the Army establishments that were present in the same location, which was a major concern. The Gangtok Municipal Corporation extended support to the initiative with a garbage truck and safaikarmacharis who took part in the cleanup activity.

The Green Rangers from NBBD College, Tadong cleaned up an area in Arithang where they observed open defecation to be a major challenge, that it made segregation of waste simply not possible. The Trash Thrashers was another group from SRM University that cleaned up at 5th Mile and also raised awareness about plastic pollution. Green Circle along with the community of Chongyek undertook a cleanliness drive at Chongyek Village.

Cleanups in North Sikkim were carried out by Lachen Tourism Development Committee at Lachen Village, while a major cleanup of the Seven Sisters Waterfalls was also carried out by Men Rongong GPU. In Namchi, Brothers on Wheels undertook a cleanup at the Helipad, while in Gyalshing, the Government College students organised a cleanliness drive around their college premises.

The data from the cleanup shall be compiled at a Himalayan level to generate an understanding on the types of plastic waste that are polluting the mountains, which should lead to improved and sustainable waste management solutions in the long run.