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A Small Bakery Is Helping Solve Leh’s Plastic Waste Issue, A Cupcake At A Time

This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

Rigzin Wangmo was born and raised in Shey, a suburb of Leh town. She completed her education in tourism and hotel management and worked in various luxurious hotels to get first-hand experience in the hospitality and tourism industry. But, she always felt a vacuum in the quality of work and employment in the sector.

So, she returned to her hometown and decided to follow her passion for bakery and confectionery. She decided to open Shey bakehouse in 2020 – one of the top bakeries in Ladakh.

Locals enjoy the savoury and delicacy of her bread, cakes, and popular for the catering services as well.

A photo of a bakery in Leh solving its plastic problem
Delicacies and items in Shey bakehouse, the only bakery service in Ladakh that uses biodegradable packaging. Photo by the author.

The bakery also stands out for another thing – it is the only bakery service in Ladakh that uses biodegradable packaging. “In terms of energy consumption, bakeries consume efficient energy and reviewing its process is crucial steps toward the green initiative. This isn’t possible for young startups but adopting eco-friendly packing is feasible, so I took my first step towards improving sustainability in Ladakh’s baking industry,” Wangmo told Youth Ki Awaaz.

The idea of using eco-friendly packaging arose when she came across biodegradable wrappers in hotels. Her curiosity grew and she started researching alternative packaging. She discovered that compostable packaging material is made from cornstarch which is easily compostable, even if it’s a bit more expensive than regular plastic made of polystyrene. “I didn’t hesitate to spend more money on the packaging that saves nature and procure it all the way from Uttar Pradesh,” adds Rigzin.

The owner of Shey bakehouse
Wangmo, the founder of Shey bakehouse, one of the top bakeries of Ladakh.

Even though there are plenty of budding entrepreneurs in Ladakh especially promoting local products, very few are concerned about the environmental ills of using single-use plastic. According to reports, more than 50,000 plastic bottle waste weighing nearly 16 tonnes is generated per day during the tourist season in Leh.

Wangmo finds it’s a matter of deep concern that the bakery industry, the noodle makers, the chips manufacturers, and the like use only plastic for packaging. “The mass wholesaler and wholesale dealers in Ladakh will never revere our environment, we locals have to be responsible for our ecosystem,” she says.

The garbage mountains of Bombgarh and Skarmpari record the number of waste people of Leh produce.

This single-used plastic has an adverse impact not only on humans but also on domestic animals. Locals say rising cases of cows dying from consuming plastic waste is common in Leh. “Every individual bears the responsibility whether a consumer, producer, manufacturer, or policymaker. Each one of us can make a contribution, no contribution is small or great,” she says.

She has always been a climate enthusiast and her great grandfather is the greatest source of inspiration. He is 93 years old who taught her to live a sustainable and eco-friendly mode of living.

Shey bakehouse saves 4.5 lakhs of single used plastic every year yet faces major challenges in adopting biodegradable packaging.

The substitution to plastic is a tricky affair because of the material(cornstarch) being compostable and hence not being able to hold moisture for too long especially when exposed to heat. In order to not compromise the quality, in summer they use twice the amount of packaging to maintain the required temperature. “It might be time-consuming but we will never negotiate on the quality,” says Rigzin.

Despite the challenges, the people in positions, particularly in government, should encourage responsible entrepreneurs by giving subsidies in utility costs or procurement of local resources,” she says.

Under the directive of Ama Tsogpa, Leh (Mothers Association) has banned plastic bags for the last few years. They have been substituted with non-woven grocery bags made of polypropylene.

“But the implementation of law or banning of certain items won’t work at all – the need to understand the phenomenon of climate change and its impact as it unfolded in Ladakh is extremely crucial,” Wangmo feels.

A photo of waste lying near Leh
Solid waste lying at a large dumpsite, Bomgard, near Leh town. Photo: Athar Parvaiz, Scroll. in

For instance, the distinctive habit of not sorting waste is the biggest challenge around the present waste cycle in Ladakh.

Wangmo along with like-minded friends has initiated a tree plantation drive called ‘Orchid in Desert.’ She calls it a little investment towards mother nature. So far, they have planted 389 apple and apricot trees in the desert land of Shey. The idea is to expand greenery in the barren lands of Ladakh, to empower people to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainable living.

“Sustainability has become a posh word in today’s world, the myth that only the well-off people can have a sustainable life. We need to debunk such myths. For me, sustainability is about sourcing local ingredients, empowering local farmers, and making sure that they don’t lose interest in farming,” she says.

Being a responsible entrepreneur entails more work with more responsibility, she adds, “I feel the need for not only making a living but also being benign towards our environment,” she asserts. The punishing terrain, barren land, and hypoxic atmosphere have made Ladakh one of the most vulnerable areas on the planet to be hit by climate change.


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An increase in purchasing power among locals through burgeoning tourists has created better job opportunities and established more hospitality businesses. Along with the booming tourism industry, locals have adapted the so-called modern lifestyle that drastically changed Leh’s natural terrain within a short span of time. Whether it is acute water shortage, vehicular pollution, or waste management – there is no miraculous solution until we change our behaviour and choice, Wangmo feels.

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