‘Leave the Mountains in a better condition’ is a firm policy at Indiahikes. The rationale behind this belief – the mountains give us so much and it’s time we do something for the mountains too. That is why picking up litter has always played a major part in every trek organized by Indiahikes.
“A team of trekkers is like a big vacuum cleaner,” voices Arjun Majumdar, co-founder of Indiahikes. So, naturally, trekkers form a major part of this vision.
“Each team of trekkers is sensitized and prepared for the task ahead through different means. We use emails, social media and personal calls to ensure that we all understand the goal of keeping trails clean,” says Izzat, the Green Trail Coordinator at Indiahikes. So trekkers are aware of their basic responsibility-do not leave a trace and take your own waste back with you.
During treks the trekkers are provided with well-designed bags that can be strapped on their backs. “We tell them to put their personal trash here and also to collect litter like wrappers or plastics left by locals or other trekkers on the trail,” says Soumya Jyoti Mitra, Trek Leader at Indiahikes. The trash then gets emptied into bigger sacks at each camp site. To ensure these activities proceed without any hitch, each team has a few trekkers who take the responsibility of managing the clean-ups.
This is not enough though. The kitchen waste needs to be taken care of too. Otherwise each campsite will have a sorry tale to tell.
“Our porters, cooks, guides, helpers- everyone in the trek team are briefed about the clean-up activities on the trek,” says Manish Pasad,Chief of Operations, Indiahikes. Soumya Jyoti Mitra further adds, “It is seen that all biodegradable waste is buried in pits and covered and non- degradable waste is collected in the sacks.” Finally all the trash collected on the trails and at camp site are taken by porters to base camps and then loaded on to vehicles. They are then taken to towns for proper disposal.
“Sometimes we take the help of trekkers too and ask them to dispose off the waste in their vehicles. Mostly, they are co-operative,” adds Manish.
So how do the trekkers feel about this whole exercise?
Usually they don’t complain. In fact, Soumya Jyoti Mitra recalls a time when he wanted volunteers to clean up a location in one of his treks, “Out of the group of 18 trekkers, six trekkers joined hands with me willingly to clean the campsite. And we restored the place back to its glory.”
Trekkers too feel they are doing their bit. One of the trekkers who had trekked to Kashmir Great Lakes for her summer vacation says,” The trails are so beautiful that you feel like doing something.” Some trekkers feel it is their moral responsibility to see that no trace is left behind. So they willingly pitch in. Here Manish Pasad adds, “There are some who go that extra mile as well. Rajiv Jain one of the trekkers was so dedicated in this mission that he even slid down a slope to pick up a wrapper.”
The first step towards change is awareness. Thus interacting with villagers and educating them is an important part of this whole clean-up drive.
“During our first exclusive Green Trail cleaning drive we interacted with villagers of Didina and Wan and locals passing by Bedni and Bhagwabasa campsites. We sensitized them to the need for proper segregation and disposal, the dangers of burning or burying plastic and the effects it could have on the environment and atmosphere,” says Izzat. She adds further, “We also encouraged them to take responsibility of admonishing trekkers and others who polluted their environment.” The villagers assured them they won’t stand silently anymore.
“Several months after this, Sandhya and I happened to pass through Didina on our descent from Ali Bugyal, and were pleasantly surprised to see boxes for dry waste outside many houses. The village Pradhan, who was part of the initiative, was instrumental in the initiative being sustained.This gave us a lot of hope and encouragement,” Izzat says with a smile.
How to go about it – in short:
1. Sensitize trekkers: Interact with them well in advance. Share goals and strategies on how to keep the trails clean.
2. Call for a few trekkers from each team to form a group to manage the clean-up activities on the trek.
3. Equipment for cleaning, segregating garbage etc. needs to be procured. Eg. Gloves, garbage bags for each trekker, big sacks, digging tools to dig toilet pits and compost pits, toilet tents, buckets, mugs, garbage bins (separate for degradable and non- degradable waste)
4. Collect trash on the way and empty this into big sack at camp sites.
5. At camp sites, see that kitchen waste is properly disposed and toilet pits are properly covered before leaving.
7. Porters and kitchen staff need to be educated and demonstrations on waste segregation to be done and supervised regularly.
8. Bringing back filled sacks of garbage needs to be supervised.
9. Garbage brought down to base camp to be disposed off in a place that has been identified in advance. The place needs to have a waste disposal system in place.