With its breathtaking beauty and fragile ecosystem, the Indian Himalayan region faces mounting pressure to find effective solutions for the growing waste crisis
The Indian Himalayan States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are known as ‘Dev Bhoomi’ or the ‘Land of the Gods’ due to their religious significance. They are characterized by beautiful landscapes featuring several majestic peaks, wildlife sanctuaries with rich biodiversity, and many gleaming rivers. Two of the most important rivers in India, the Ganga and Yamuna, originate in the glaciers of Uttarakhand.
Due to their natural beauty, these places have become tourist hotspots in the last few decades. According to a report by the World Bank, tourism-related activities in the Indian Himalayan Region generate over five million MT of waste per annum. This is projected to increase rapidly over the next few years as the tourism boom continues. Local consumption patterns have also changed significantly, with increased use of single-use plastics, leading to an increase in non-biodegradable waste generation even in remote areas. Due to a lack of proper collection and processing systems, a conservative estimate is that over 60% of this waste is dumped or burnt in the open.
IMPACT ON WILDLIFE
When waste is dumped in these eco-sensitive areas, it generally ends up in the forests or nearby water streams, impacting the various species of wildlife in the region.
A study by Wildlife SOS on the critically endangered Himalayan Brown Bear revealed that over 75% of the food bears consume comes from garbage dumps. Their natural diet of fresh plants, insects, and small mammals has been replaced by improperly disposed of high-calorie foods, like the famous Indian Biryani!
Another study published in The Journal for Nature Conservation reported the presence of plastics, glass, metal, rubber, and other human-made materials in elephant dung in the forests of Uttarakhand. Gitanjali Katlam the main author of the study says “It is an uncomfortable truth to face – that elephants ingest plastic along with food waste (discarded food often wrapped in plastic) and carry it deep into the forest. Once the plastic exits the elephant’s system, it can continue to be a danger to other animals in the forest as it gets passed up the food chain.”