By Ira Sahai:
With the rapid development of infrastructure and connectivity, no place seems very far off these days. We have one or another mode of transport connecting us to even the remotest of places. We now find more and more people scaling Mt Everest or visiting Antarctica.
Although on one hand it contributes to the local economy and provides jobs and other services, on the other hand, rampant growth has led to the building of hotels and guest houses without proper safety codes. Parts of forests are being cut and land flattened to make townships, massively disturbing the local flora and fauna.
One can tell the sign of increased tourist activity by the huge amounts of garbage which are visible on the hillside these days. With more and more people visiting hill stations in India, the problem will only increase if the activity goes unchecked.
A small hamlet called Pangot, in the region of Uttarakhand, close to Nainital, is paving the way and showing us all how it’s possible to reduce waste generated to an absolute minimum, and still maintain tourist inflow.
Pangot has a unique ecosystem and one can find some of the rarest birds in this small place. This invites a lot of bird watching enthusiasts here. Also, given its proximity to Nainital, Pangot sees a lot of day tourists, trekking and biking enthusiasts. With the increased footfall comes small vendors selling cookies, chips, water bottles and many such edible things. With no proper place to dispose of this packaging, till a few months back, one could find all this being carelessly thrown in the valley from where it would eventually make its way to the river.
But now things are changing. With a group of hotel owners, concerned citizens, school children and an NGO, waste is being identified, segregated and talked about, and efforts are underway to make Pangot waste-free.
Hotels are making a conscious effort of segregating their waste, and they are actively advising their guests to be sensitive to the local ecosystem, by not bringing in plastic or by asking them to take back the packaging. They are also asked to buy locally produced food items, which not only help the residents but also help in cutting down the menace of food items being bought in multi-layered packaging.
On their part, hotels also are buying items in bulk, keeping glass bottles that are reusable in the rooms, and also letting the guests borrow bottles so that they don’t have to buy plastic water bottles. They are also lending cloth bags to guests to take around locally, to cut down on plastic bags. Some of the hotels now also have an advisory on their websites.
Along with this, local children are now participating in cleanliness drives to make sure the area stays clean, and they actively start conversations with tourists on why littering needs to be stopped. The local households are also participating in training and developing a mix of age-old wisdom with modern techniques to combat the challenge.
Three very important lessons that we can learn from the efforts we see here are:
Pangot is not yet zero-waste, but the efforts are underway and with participation from everyone, it can very soon be a model for others to follow.