New Delhi: Cradled between the foothills of the Himalayas, the small hamlet of Pangot in Uttarakhand is home to over 200 bird species, attracting birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts from all over the world. As tourists in large numbers descended upon Pangot over the years, a small group of shopkeepers began selling plastic water bottles, food items wrapped in plastic and other items of daily use, wrapped in plastic. The absence of proper places to dispose used plastic bags or wrappers meant that people threw used plastic bottles and bags into a local gorge, and the plastic waste ended up entering the local river.
The gradual environmental pollution Pangot was being subjected to caught Mohit Aggarwal’s eye. Mr Aggarwal, owner of the Jungle Lore Birding Lodge, decided that the beautiful abode of Pangot did not deserve to drown in pollution, and took it upon himself to address the concern. Mr Aggarwal collaborated with Delhi based NGO Chintan, which specialises in waste management, to devise a strategy to counter the plastic problem. Meeting other resort owners, Mr Aggarwal discussed plans to make Pangot completely plastic free.
10 out of 17 hotels in Pangot have committed themselves to be a part of the ‘Zero Waste Pangot’ programme. In these hotels, kitchen staff is segregating their food waste and composting wet waste. Tourists are being provided with cloth bags and reusable water bottles. Along with Mr Aggarwal and a few other hotel owners, an army of citizens, NGO members and school children are ensuring that Pangot remains free from the clutches of plastic pollution.
It makes my heart bleed to visit the mountains and see litter everywhere, so I said we have to do something to reverse this trend. We have started with Pangot this year, but I want to replicate this model in all the properties we have across the hills, Mr Aggarwal told UN Environment.
The birdwatching paradise of Pangot in northern India has turned the tide on plastic waste by involving the entire community in the effort to preserve its beauty. https://t.co/S9s2XzD46i #WorldEnvironmentDay @drharshvardhan @moefcc pic.twitter.com/mL16FVsUIN
— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) May 22, 2018
The hotels have asked tourists to not bring plastic to the area or leave it when they are departing. Tourists are being encouraged to purchase local food which cuts down the volume on plastic packaging on food items from outside. Not just in hotels and with tourists, waste management is gradually catching up in Pangot too. Wet waste from households is being given to cattle, while waste collectors from the nearby town of Haldwani are collecting dry waste. Cleanliness drives, with the participation of local children has become a regular event.
Pangot’s inspirational method of tackling plastic waste shows that reducing plastic pollution need not necessarily translate into reduction in tourist numbers. The organisers are not looking to make Pangot completely waste free in the future.
With inputs from UN Environment