In a clean-up drive organised across 250 sites, more than 97% of the total waste collected was plastic
In the last decade alone, the world has produced more plastic than it has in the whole century. India alone generates 60% of the world’s plastic waste, which has adverse impacts on the health of our mountains, oceans and rivers. In a state like Sikkim, the remote locations of villages add to the multiple challenges of managing plastic waste.
Organised under the theme of ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, ‘The Himalayan Cleanup’ was carried out in 12 mountain states of India on May 26, 2018. These are Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. The clean-up saw the participation of more than 15000 volunteers and 200 organisations in more than 250 sites which are critical and representative of the region, and important to the people and policy makers.
Anchored by the Integrated Mountain Initiative and Zero Waste Himalaya, the clean-up aimed to understand and reflect on our lifestyle choices and to bring to the forefront the issue of waste in the mountains.
The waste collection in selected sites was 1-2 hours long exercise, followed by a 2 -3 hour long waste audit.
Findings of the waste audit for all the 12 states showed that the top 5 items in the trash were multilayered plastics, pet bottles, paper/cardboard, single-use plastic items and other plastic items. Multilayered plastics alone constituted 68 per cent of the total trash collected in the cleanup sites. PET bottles, mainly water bottles, were also found in large numbers during the clean-up. Single-use items such as plastic spoons and straws and other plastic utensils were also retrieved in considerable numbers across the clean-up sites.
Through a brand audit, the groups that conducted the clean-up also aim to generate awareness on the type of plastics that are polluting the Himalayas and also assess brands of the plastic trash collected from the sites.
In the future, the Integrated Mountain Initiative and Zero Waste Himalaya will strengthen the extended producer responsibility with companies, and support local entrepreneurs on developing alternatives to single-use plastic items. The group will advocate for five key initiatives following the audit (i) policies to stop single-use plastic and multilayered plastic in the mountains, (ii) extended producer responsibility, especially for Multilayered Plastic, PET bottles (iii) no incineration of waste in the sacred and ecologically sensitive Himalayas, (iv) tourism and defense integrated in waste management systems and (v) special resource support to the mountain states considering the challenges of geography and connectivity.
The Zero Waste Himalaya group is a platform of organisations and individuals concerned with the increasing problem of waste across the fragile Himalayan landscape and advocating actively against plastic pollution. In Sikkim - Darjeeling, the group is spearheaded by organisations and institutions like WWF-India, DLR Prerna, Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS), Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC), ATREE, State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD), and Rural Management & Development Department (RMDD).
The group works with local self-government institutions, community groups, educational institutions, faith based organizations and media in promoting zero waste practices, which focuses on waste reduction, resource recovery and is grounded on the belief that individual actions matter. At a broader level, the group also advocates for implementing concepts of extended producer responsibility, closed loop economies and clean production as meaningful alternative to the present linear system of production and consumption.
Zero Waste Himalaya movement advocates strongly against the use of single- use plastic items, which was closely linked to the theme of ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ during World Environment Day 2018.