You have just finished a good long walk in the hill town and settle down for a steaming cup of instant noodles from the tea shop. You also pick up a couple of water bottles, the ‘essentials’ on any traveller’s list.
Have you wondered what happens to all the bottles and the plastic packaging from food that hundreds of tourists use every day? In all likelihood, they are burnt along with other garbage in the outskirts of the town.
At more than 14,800 feet above sea level, the village of Thukje near the Tso Kar lake in Ladakh is perhaps among the handful of tourist destinations in India which still appear fairly remote.
The floating Changpa population are the main occupants here and some of the traditional Ladakhi houses double up as simple homestays.
However, even here, getting your fix of instant noodles, bottled water, soft drinks and other packaged food products is not difficult. The effect of burning plastic on a fragile ecology like Ladakh’s need not be particularly spelt out.
Our cities are struggling to deal with the large amount of waste we produce every day and recycling is still a new word in our vocabulary. In the touristic hill towns, from Leh to Munnar, the story is unfortunately the same.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) as stipulated in Europe, US, Canada, Australia, Japan and other countries places the onus of environmental cost on the producer (including brand owners, importers and manufacturers).
Responsibility extends from the materials used in production, design and packaging to the end of the product’s life cycle, i.e. collecting, recycling and/ or safe disposal.
It is apparent that quite a bit is spent on marketing consumer products in India; you can see clocks, menu boards, display stands, shop name boards and other paraphernalia with brand logos in some of the most inaccessible places.
If many Indian and multinational FMCG companies have crossed major logistical hurdles to ensure their products have reached areas in India where even electricity has not, then devising a more efficient disposal system for the waste generated is certainly not impossible.
To begin with, India’s hill towns with its growing tourism and with little or no infrastructure for waste management must be targeted.
From the tour operator to the hotel owner, a little awareness can go a long way. If the beautiful landscape provides bread and butter, then it is only fair she is treated with consideration, to say the very least.
An administration driven by local participation is also more likely to act on environmental concerns. Small initiatives can certainly make a difference.
Remember returning the soft drink glass bottle to the shop, much before PET bottles filled the counter? They are called ‘bottle bills’ in the US-a refundable deposit is collected from consumers (and retailers) and repaid when the bottle or container is returned. Leh has several drinking water refilling stations, it is something other towns can replicate.
What, finally of the traveller? We take great efforts in cropping any indication of litter from our picture perfect shots but somehow are yet to stop littering in the first place. Of course, not littering alone will not do.
We could definitely be more mindful. When the tour operator promises a ‘packed lunch’ on the day trip, it would not hurt to ask what happens to these packets once lunch is done.
Did we help clean up the camp site completely before moving on? Dumping waste where it is less likely to be seen cannot count for cleaning up. What are the kinds of products we use on a trip? Can our meals consist of more local food, than fare that requires ingredients to take up arduous journeys?
The other day my local grocer said, “I make sure I stock brown bread. It is what most people ask for, nowadays.”No one can argue that the tourism industry is built around the traveller’s needs (and fantasies, if you may).
It is the principle of demand and supply. Simply put, we have to ask for more environmentally conscious services. Let us ask for brown bread then.
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Annie Philip is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. Having just moved there after stints in different places, she is trying hard to make sense of the metropolis. Her day starts with a cup of tea and she loves cheese.