The Himalayan Cleanup, India

Integrated Mountain Initiative’s vision of ‘Making the people of India proud of our mountains” aims to focus attention on India’s Himalayan Regions (IHR) to mainstream the concept of Sustainable mountain development into the administrative planning concept of IHR.

The Indian Himalaya is part of a global biodiversity hotspot with a high percentage of protected and community conserved areas, as well as being an important source of water for millions of people. Due to ever-increasing tourist footfall and changing consumption patterns, plastics have entered the remotest mountain environments where the terrain makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible to retrieve and/or dispose of plastic waste. Lack of awareness leads to burning of waste, dumping down hillsides or into streams and rivers.   Wildlife including red pandas and black bears consume plastic through food left in plastic packaging. In 2018, a Himalayan Cleanup across the 12 mountain states mobilised 15,000 volunteers across 200 sites, sorting and recycling waste and making ecobricks from non recyclable plastics.  This project will run the Cleanup day again, alongside other community clean up events raising awareness locally as well as amongst the travel, transport and tourism sectors. A workshop will be held with government and CSO stakeholders to discuss sustainable waste management strategies and keeping key habitats clean, underpinned by results from a waste audit.

The Update

Since the CleanUp Day was scheduled for May 2020, some changes were required in the implementation of this project.

During the first half of 2020, a core group of Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) and Zero Waste Himalaya (ZWH)members undertook a process of defining a draft problem statement of waste in the Himalaya and delineating a strategy document which was circulated amongst key stakeholders via a workshop, webinars and events across the 12 Himalayan States of India as well as the State Chapters of IMI for comments and feedback. Five online workshops were then organised to train volunteers and Peer educators on the concept of zero waste.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, The Himalayan Cleanup (THC) 2021 was re- negotiated as an exercise to be conducted at an individual or family level through home-based waste and brand audits.  THC was taken forward in the various mountain states through volunteer organisations who were brought together through existing networks. Three online training sessions, a manual, and a series of THC Conversations deep diving into particular issues were created for participants. The data will be used at the local levels to push for change and also to advocate for extended producer responsibility in the Indian Himalayan Region.

A very strong communication campaign through social media resulted in over 450 persons registering for the home-based audits.   THC 2021 from home was carried out from 26 to 30 May, 2021.  THC Round II  from 26 to 30 June 2021 was also organised to provide better coverage of states that were less represented in the first round.

The theme for The Himalayan Cleanup 2021 was – Reflect. Switch. Demand. Individual waste audits facilitated participants to reflect on their different types of waste and how much they were generating. The reflections enabled decisions to switch to sustainable choices to reduce their waste load on the landfill. Demand encouraged participants to call for improved waste management systems and polluting companies to take responsibility for their products in their locality, town or state. 381 people participated in The Himalayan Cleanup from home. Data was received from 199 people from 11 Himalayan states.

With the COVID19 lockdown restrictions easing off, The Himalayan Cleanup 2022 was taken forward in person with the theme Reflect, Switch, Demand.  The Himalayan Cleanup 2022 was undertaken over 150+ sites across the Himalaya with over 5000+ Volunteers taking it forward. All the regions of the Indian Himalaya were represented in THC2022 and there was even one site from Nepal. The volunteers were associated with over 100+ Schools /Colleges and 49 organizations. Quality data was received from 65 sites with 3336 volunteers.114376 pieces of trash were cleaned up of which 105995 was plastic trash(92.7% of trash cleaned up was plastic).  4148.4 kg of plastic waste were cleaned up from critical sites across the Himalaya. 72% of all plastic waste cleaned up was non recyclable, 82% of it coming from food and drinks packaging followed by personal care products. The audit identified the top 10 companies polluting the Indian Himalayan Region.