“Everybody who is coming to the mountains needs to understand that they have their duty towards the Himalayas, towards local communities, towards this beautiful ecology,” says Pradeep Sangwan, with the kind of conviction in his voice that echoes through the Himalayas. And he leads by example. An avid mountaineer and founder of Healing Himalayas Foundation, Sangwan has been conducting multiple cleaning drives with trekkers collecting waste strewn by tourists, since 2016.
In 2020, during the first lockdown, the foundation started building its first waste collecting centre named Material Recovery Facility (MRFs) in Rakcham, Himachal Pradesh. During the treks in mountains, Sangwan encourages participants to keep collecting garbage on the way. When they return to the base camp, they have bags of trash.
A process of segregation is inbuilt at the collection stage but sometimes, local help is also hired. Plastic bottles and wrappers are handed over to recycling plants in Shimla or Manali; glass bottles or broken glass pieces strewn in the mountains are the bigger challenges. “Segregated waste is brought to our facilities and from there we segregate it further into multi-layer plastic (MLP), single layer plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), glass bottles, cardboards, etc. Then we send it out in different directions to the recyclers,” he says.
Some amount of plastic is kept as storage in the facilities and eventually it is used for road construction. The plastic waste collected is tried to be reused locally so as to reduce carbon footprint in terms of transportation. “Whatever we can’t recycle locally gets transferred to the nearest recycling unit,” Sangwan adds.