4,143 kilos of waste collected in The Himalayan Cleanup 2022

Summit Report

Gangtok, 08 Aug:

A total of 1,14,376 pieces of trash weighing 4,143 Kgswere collected across the mountains during The Himalayan Cleanup from 26 to 30 May.

The Waste and Brand Audit results of The Himalayan Cleanup 2022 was revealed in an online meeting conducted on the occasion of Zero Waste Himalaya Day, on 08 August, a press release from Indian Mountain Initiative and Zero Waste Himalaya informs.

RP Gurung of Zero Waste Himalaya and an IMI Member from Sikkim mentioned that The Himalayan Cleanup (THC) 2022 is an annual event which is undertaken across the Indian Himalayan Region between 26 to 30 May 2022 by Integrated Mountain Initiative and Zero Waste Himalaya.

THC is conducted to highlight the waste crisis in the Indian Himalayan Region and advocates for mountain sensitive policies, as well as individual change, and most importantly demand for sustainable products and packaging. The theme for THC therefore is, 'Reflect, Switch and Demand’ to motivate participants to move towards mindful and sustainable lifestyles as well as to create collective spaces for individuals to demand for improved systems and products to redress the problem of plastic pollution.

It was reported that this year over 5000 participants undertook the clean-up in more than 100 sites, and conducted a waste and brand audit which are aligned to the global brand audit of Break Free from Plastics. THC was led by over 100+ educational institutions and 49 organisations including IMI State Chapters. In Sikkim, THC 2022 had been officially endorsed by the Education Department with more than 70 schools joining in the campaign.

THC entails collecting, segregating and counting the different pieces of plastic trash to understand the type of plastics by its various numbers, the categories of waste - whether food packaging, personal care products, household products, smoking & tobacco, or others.

PriyaShrestha, member of Zero Waste Himalaya and IMI presented that the data received from 65 sites revealed that a total of 114376 pieces of trash weighing 4143 Kgs was collected in total across the mountains. 92.7% of the waste collected was plastic trash.

What is most significant is that 72% of all plastic collected was non-recyclable like multi-layered plastic, tetra-pak, which is the root of the plastic crisis as these plastics have no solution. Though 28% of plastic waste collected was recyclable, these trash such as PET bottles end up littering the mountains as even recyclable plastics are not collected due to collection, linkage and support challenges in the mountains.

Alarmingly packaged food and drinks made 82% of all plastic waste collected in THC, which is an indication of the junk and processed food culture that is now prevalent. It is a known fact that these foods are low in nutritional value and high in salt, sugar and fat that contributes to the fast growing non-communicable lifestyle diseases in the Himalaya.

70.2% of food packaging was multi-layered plastic that is non-recyclable which leads to the Himalayan waste crisis. This is a crucial insight into looking at waste management solutions that are systemic and design oriented.

Speaking on the insights from THC, RoshanRai, Zero Waste Himalaya and IMI member from Darjeeling highlighted the need for producers to design out their packaging waste with more sustainable material, as part of their extended producer responsibility. While the role of the individual and the end of the pipeline waste manager is important, it is extremely important that companies who produce waste take responsibility for their waste which is now mandated in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) notification within the plastic waste management rules. 72% non-recyclable plastics means that the waste manager in the mountains are helpless and the real solution is for companies to design out this waste. He further stressed that the definition of single- use had to be expanded to include multilayered packaging which was the main contributor to the waste crisis.

The Himalayan waste crisis needs to be acknowledged with adequate resources and mountain sensitive policies.

The brand audit that revealed the top polluting companies were revealed during the meeting which showed that the top 10 companies whose plastics are found littering the mountainscapes were PepsiCo India, CG Foods India Pvt. Ltd., Perfetti Van Melle, Perfetti Van Melle, ITC, ParleAgroPvt. Ltd, Hindustan Coca Cola, Nestle, Hindustan Unilever Ltd., Mondelez India Food Pvt. Ltd., Dabur India Ltd.

In the discussion session, participants called for working on food related campaigns with schools which are aligned to the Eat Right Movement. Local food options to replace junk food also need to be discussed for popularisation. Deeper discussions were felt as necessary to understand the alternatives to plastics available. Focusing on local products that use single use plastics for packaging was also felt as necessary.

Educational institutions were acknowledged for their tremendous stewardship and the top 5 schools from the 70+ schools were announced by KabyRai, Zero Waste Himalaya Volunteer. GyanodayNiketan, Darjeeling; King George School, Sikkim; Duga SSS, Sikkim; Sambhota Tibetan School, Darjeeling; Lamdon Model School Leh were the top 5 schools.

During the meeting, the Plastic Freedom Challenge for 2022 which runs from 08 to 15 Aug was also launched. AbishekPradhan, Zero Waste Peer Educator gave an overview of the campaign and announced a video making contest which was open for all. A social media storm on the Top 3 Polluters was also conducted to amplify the results of THC 2022. He called on all individuals and institutions to take the Plastic Freedom Challenge and make Independence Day celebrations plastic free.

The journey of THC 2022 from 2018 shows the unabated onslaught of plastic waste in the Himalaya and the need for urgent emergency response to the crisis at the individual and institutional levels. It calls on individual action, as well as on companies to stop polluting the Himalaya and to take responsibility for their waste.