A group of students climb down the hill to bring out some empty bottles, other volunteers catch them and keep them in their respective sacks. Trekkers and hikers look at them, some clap, some laugh, and others help them by bringing a few bottles and chips packets by themselves. Eventually, everyone moves on and these volunteers continue what they are doing. You’ll see them wearing a green color t-shirts or sweatshirts with Waste Warriors written on the back. These kids are part of a movement that is trying their best to make the mountains a livable place again.
When we imagine the mountains, fresh air, chirping birds, and clouds are what comes in our mind. Sadly, the reality has changed over the time and the mountains have become a home of heaps of plastic bottles. Thanks to the rapid tourism, the fragile ecosystem has become worse over the time. The tourists are not the only ones to be blamed. The locals are equally guilty for ignoring the problem and not trying to find a solution when it started. And here we are, some of the must-visit places in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have turned into the plastic capital of the Himalayas.
When I first volunteered with the Dharamshala branch of Waste Warriors, I saw a change coming. The change was slow and at a very small pace but still, it was something that will create a positive impact towards the life in the mountains for good. We installed dustbins in different corners of Triund, Bhagsu waterfall and around the town to provide the tourists with the convenience of throwing their empty water bottles and packet of lays but things didn’t change.
In the last three years since the internet got buzzfeedized, Triund got famous as one of the easiest hiking spot for every beginner. While the destination became popular between every weekend tourist quoting ‘wanderlust’ and ‘mountains are calling and I must go’, in their Instagram bio, the condition of the trail became worse. The amount of plastic waste has become so high that every Monday when we go for the cleanup, we find the garbage bins overflowing. Despite regular educational drives, door to door garbage collection modules and multiple attempts to sensitize the local shopkeepers our efforts failed in making things better. We expected a decrease in the waste over the time but it has only increased. The shops that used to give us a bag of garbage per week, now empty two to three bags in the same amount of time. The tourists don’t understand, the locals don’t stop them, everyone is equally guilty.
Despite the hurdles, Waste Warriors make sure that they don’t miss a single cleanup drive and go to clean the trail as per their schedule. Different volunteers join on different days; no one is sure about the number of people who will be coming for a drive and they are prepared to clean the trail in any case.
One of the biggest hurdles of the cleanup drive is the monsoon. When it rains, it sends the garbage on the lower slopes where climbing is dangerous and risky. The volunteers have to climb down these slopes and remove the waste. A small goofup and you can fall down hundreds of feet in the valley. I almost twisted my ankle after I fell down from a rocky slope.
When the cleanup is done, the volunteers have to bring these bags back to the collection centre which is also their head office. Post this the process of garbage segregation begins. Garbage segregation is important because each type of waste is sent to a specific recycling plant. The plastic bottles are sent to a different destination, the packets and tetra packs are sent somewhere else.
The last time we started this process, it took us 7 hours to fill individual sacks with the respective category of the waste. We segregated around 2000 kgs of waste in a single day. It may sound like a huge achievement but it is not. We missed Triund cleanup hike on the next Monday because of the rains and the fear of collecting double waste on the next Monday took over everyone.
How can you help Waste Warriors
Volunteer – If you are visiting McLeodganj, Dehradoon or Corbett then you can connect with their centres and offer your volunteer services. You can provide assistance in different fields like content, education, finances, operation and artwork but you’ll have to join the team on the cleanup programs especially when they are short of participants. Make sure that your intentions are genuine and you really intend to make a change. Cleaning a 7 km trekking trail is a tough task and requires a lot of determination.
Donate – Funds are important for any NGO to keep running. You can connect with the team at www.WasteWarriors.com for any kind of queries about funding.
Provide office equipment – Apart from funds, you can also help them by providing camping gear, office equipment, stationary, old books and rucksacks. This will prove helpful in their day to day operations.
When you enter Bhagsu, you’ll find a huge pile of garbage lying near the parking. This garbage, collected by the Waste Warriors, is kept waiting for the PWD and municipality to come and take them to the dumping site but they haven’t visited in months. Every time they are asked, they’ll blame the heavy traffic between Mcleodganj and Dharamshala. For those who have luxury to escape their job always find a way to do so, those who cannot, they make sure that they fight their way through it.
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