Everyone knows that pollution in the Himalayas region is at an all-time high, but have you wondered what causes it, and who, or more importantly, which company’s products cause the most damage to the environment?

You need not wonder more.

The results of The Himalayan Cleanup (THC) were revealed at an online meeting conducted on the occasion of Zero Waste Himalaya Day, on August 8, 2022, showed that while there is a huge ‘variety’ in the garbage found in the Himalayan region, some products are far more at fault than others.

The brand audit revealed the top 10 companies whose plastics are found littering the mountains were PepsiCo India, CG Foods India Pvt. Ltd., Perfetti Van Melle, ITC, ParleAgro Pvt. Ltd, Hindustan Coca-Cola, Nestle, Hindustan Unilever Ltd., Mondelez India Food Pvt. Ltd., Dabur India Ltd

The Clean-up, which was done in association with Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI), aims to highlight the waste crisis in the Indian Himalayan Region and advocates for mountain-sensitive policies, as well as individual change.

This year, over 5,000 participants undertook the clean-up in more than 100 sites and conducted a waste and brand audit which are aligned to the global brand audit of ‘Break Free from Plastics’. The THC was led by over 100+ educational institutions and 49 organisations, with more than 70 schools joining the campaign.

Priya Shrestha, a member of Zero Waste Himalaya pointed out that the data received from 65 sites, revealed that 114376 pieces of trash, weighing 4143 kg, were collected in total across the mountains. About 92.7% of the waste collected was plastic trash. What is most significant is that 72% of all plastic collected was non-recyclable like multi-layered plastic, and tetrapak, the root of the plastic crisis as these plastics have no solution. Though 28% of plastic waste collected was recyclable, trash such as PET bottles litters the mountains as even recyclable plastics are not collected due to collection, linkage and support challenges in the mountains.

Alarmingly, the packaged food and drinks made 82% of all plastic waste collected in THC, a clear indication of the junk and processed food culture that is now prevalent. 70.2% of food packaging was non-recyclable multi-layered plastic, which leads to the Himalayan waste crisis. This is a crucial insight into looking at waste management solutions that are systemic and design oriented.

Speaking on the insights from THC, Roshan Rai, Zero Waste Himalaya and IMI member from Darjeeling, highlighted the need for producers to design packaging waste with more sustainable material as part of their extended producer responsibility. While the role of the individual and the end of the pipeline waste manager is important, companies who produce waste must take responsibility for their waste which is now mandated in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) notification within the plastic waste management rules.

The Himalayan waste crisis needs to be acknowledged with adequate resources and mountain sensitive policies.

In the discussion session, participants called for working on food-related campaigns with schools aligned with the Eat Right Movement. Local food options to replace junk food need to be discussed for popularisation. Deeper discussions were felt necessary to understand the alternatives to plastics available. 

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