What was just another nondescript Saturday, turned out to be much more for us, at SDC. Accompanied by SDO Neeraj Sharma and his team from the forest department, we set off to Company Garden in Mussoorie, to try something new, to make a real difference in the dismal scenario of plastic pollution in the hill town.
The Himalayan Cleanup, somewhat of a misnomer, was not merely a cleanup. Part of the 2018 World Environment Day celebrations, it was a brand audit. A brand audit, in this context, refers to an audit that looks at the contribution of individual brands in plastic pollution, in a specific geographical area. Big multi-nationals like PepsiCo, and ParleAgro are some of the worst offenders in spreading plastic pollution. Such brands are often responsible for churning out much of the plastic waste that later pollutes and chokes our towns and cities.
Organised across all twelve Himalayan states, this audit will enable stakeholder groups to ensure that the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility, introduced in 2016, can be implemented. This pan-Himalayan audit will enable them to pressurize multinationals to take responsibility of their products all the way up to its end-of-life stage.
Our audit revealed that more than fifty percent of the litter strewn across the once-pristine hillside was plastic refuse. The biggest culprits were PepsiCo’s Lays wafers, Nestlé’s Maggi noodles, and ParleAgro’s Frooti with their multilayer plastic packaging. Vadilal and Amul ice-cream wrappers, Appy tetra-packs, and other processed foods wrappers were also abundant. Some plastic bottles were also found. This low number of bottles can be explained because unlike other plastic refuse, plastic bottles can not only be used by locals, but rag pickers also resell these, for money. Many packets of chewing tobacco, of the Dilbaagh brand, were found, too. Other waste included diapers and bottles of medicinal syrups. This makes it clear that it is not only the disposal of plastic waste that needs to be dealt with. Solid waste at large must is an issue that requires urgent attention and comprehensive action.
Working towards the implementation of EPR, via processes such as brand auditing, will also help in realising the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh SDGs. Collaborations between non-governmental organisations, governmental institutions, and locals must be the backbone of such efforts if they are to be successful. While driving back to Dehradun, as I looked out onto the valley below, I realised how this audit was only a small step in what needs to be a long walk. This small step, however, was the best way to kick off the celebrations for World Environment Day, 2018.
(Author is a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad)