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the himalaya’s himalayan task- fighting plastic menace

January 18, 2020

The mighty Himalayas is facing a Himalayan crisis of plastic menace. The picturesque Himalaya is infested with widely strewn plastic packets and polythene and it is impacting nature.

As a planet and as a people, we face several environmental challenges today. Rising fossil fuel emissions, rapid deforestation, unlivable air quality conditions; the list of our mistakes and oversights in regards to the world we live in go on and on. 

According to UN Environment, “Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away.”

The Enormity of Plastic Threat To Himalayas

Yet the problem of plastic waste and its disposal stands out because of its sheer magnitude. In the 1950’s we generated roughly 2 million tonnes of plastic per annum globally. That number is close to 400 million tonnes now. There are different types of plastic, each of them deeply embedded into our everyday lives, and it’s scary to think that every piece of plastic you have ever encountered is likely to outlive you by hundreds of years.

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Although India’s per capita plastic consumption rates are respectable on a worldwide scale, our waste management infrastructure is arguably amongst the worst. A fundamental lack of awareness coupled with a lack of sustainable systems is the prime reason behind our country’s haphazard landfills and the abundance of plastic waste. 

There is also a lack of connecting among producers, suppliers, and users of plastic, and this in cohesiveness is where I believe the problem lies. 

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Government Intervention to Curb Plastic use 

In order to tackle the issue of plastic waste, several stakeholders throughout the Dehradun region in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand have decided to take action, each with their own approach. We are united in our ultimate goal, though I believe it is in our best interest to implement different strategies and think out of the box when it comes to fighting such a massive and multi-layered menace. The city of Dehradun is slowly waking up to the problem at hand; here are a few of the stakeholders who are positively impacting Dehradun’s environment in ways that could hopefully become inspiring examples to the rest of India in the years to come.

On the governmental level, local bodies like Dehradun Smart City Limited (DSCL), Dehradun Municipal Board (DMC), and the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board (PCB) have been actively involved in improving the city’s plastic management. 

This past September, DSCL organized a ‘Plastic Wapsi Abhiyaan’, an initiative that saw them team up with 20 government schools and mobilize over 5200 students into collecting plastic from their homes. Over a 30-day period, DSCL managed to collect 555 kilograms of waste (that was later recycled) via the students. 

The DMC has been thoroughly involved in raising awareness about the various dangers of plastic usage and wastage, and have made the enforcement of plastic-related laws one of their top priorities for the city of Dehradun moving forward. The PCB functions as a regulatory body, ensuring that corporates and local businesses do not exploit our current environmental laws. The board has also allocated resources for creating a sustainable infrastructure that will greatly support the city in disposing of its plastic waste in a responsible manner.

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Institutions such as the Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have also been heavily involved. IIP’s first-of-its-kind facilities are capable of recycling plastic waste into fuel. To be more precise, they have devised an environmentally conscious procedure through which they are capable of recycling 1000 kilograms of plastic into 800 litres of diesel or 700 litres of petrol, daily.

Role of Corporates in Fighting Plastic

The UNDP, in collaboration with Coca Cola, has initiated a project to minimize damage to the environment and human health in Dehradun. They are focused on enhancing sustainable plastic waste management practices, through a socio-technical model (segregation/collection/recycling) while ensuring compliance with the regulations of the Swachh Bharat Mission. They are also working with government stakeholders like the DMC and PCB.

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Corporate institutions like Nestle have been backing some groundbreaking work here in Dehradun as well. Nestle has been running a ‘Plastic Express’ on the Dehradun-Mussoorie-Kempty route. The Express collects plastic waste from more than 200 Maggi Points and stores along the way. Nestle’s initiative has collected upwards of 8000 kilograms of plastic waste in the last six months. Food regulator FSSAI has pioneered environmental efforts amongst food business operators. The well-renowned local Chiliz restaurant recently declared itself single-use plastic-free, and other spots like Nany’s Bakery, Elloras, and Anandam have been experimenting with eco-friendly packaging. Government institutions have started organizing plastic-free events. Businesses and public schools are waking up too; Drishti Eye Institute, Ess Ell Honda, Regenta Hotel, and Hope Town School have all established Plastic Banks in their facilities and campuses.

Community Involvement for Minimising Plastic Usage

Lastly, Dehradun’s plastic management has been thriving on a citizen level.  A number of the city’s many RWAs and Citizen Groups have been addressing and acting on plastic waste management regularly and of their own accord. 

The DSCL’s ‘Swachh Colony Award’, which included 30 of the city’s RWAs, helped bring some of their efforts into the spotlight. Communities are practising source segregation, distributing recycled bags, and raising awareness amongst one and other. Citizen groups like Do-Not Trash are regularly spreading awareness regarding plastic waste while continuing to work actively with various community stakeholders. 

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