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A TedX Talk By Indiahikes Green Trails Head

Deoriatal Chandrashila Trek - Indiahikes - Milind Tambe - Chaukamba from Deoriatal

Our Inexperienced Trails head, Lakshmi Selvakumaran, gave a TedX speak on the reputed NITK Suratkal campus on January 18th, 2019. Whereas we await the official video, right here is the complete script. 


Final yr I used to be on the Chandrashila summit. You should go there in the event you can. It isn’t a troublesome trek, however the sight that you simply see from the summit can knock you off your ft. When the primary rays of the solar contact the Chaukhamba massif, that is what you see:

View of Chaukamba from the Deoriatal Lake. PC: Milind Tambe

This trek begins from Sari, a small village within the distant a part of Himalayas with no more than 150 homes.

The distant village of Sari. Regardless of being so distant, the issue of waste has hit Sari too. Image by Karan Ravan

In a single nook of this village is a small gully within the mountain aspect, full of trash.  Most of it tourism waste. This village has many such dump spots. However this isn’t distinctive to Sari. Most trekking villages in our Himalayas face the identical drawback.

A dump spot in a small nook within the village of Sari.

Check out this lovely meadow. Simply behind the mule, within the opening between the mountain is an identical waste dump.  All our treks share the identical destiny.

Bedni- Indiahikes - Anuja GuptaThe undulating meadows of Bedni Bugyal on the Roopkund Trek. Image By: Anuja Gupta

Now, I would like you to attempt think about this wilderness:  These locations are very inaccessible. There aren’t any company, municipality, any our bodies to deal with the place.  Dustbins, waste accumulating vans – issues we’re used to within the cities are onerous to think about right here. The closest landfills are virtually 250 kms away.   

How are you going to remedy the issue of waste in such a spot?

That is what my staff has been engaged on for the previous 6 years. I head the Inexperienced Trails staff. The Inexperienced Trails Venture is an unbiased division of Indiahikes, certainly one of India’s largest trekking organisation.

The issue we’re engaged on is that this. To discover a option to clear up the mountains and scale back the influx of litter.

Our concept to unravel the issue was easy. Educate trekkers and villagers round trekking zones, present a correct waste assortment system, transport the waste to landfills and discover a approach to keep it over time. To me, it was a matter of offering the best infrastructure and constructing the suitable system.

It turned out to be a really troublesome and dear activity – an unsustainable one at that.  We have been placing in costly means and assets to convey down waste.

Whereas doing this we realized one thing. Landfill was the place our collected waste was going to — a spot the place waste is forgotten and left for eternity.  

Landfills aren’t the answer for waste.

It acquired us considering. To us, it appeared that we have been merely transferring the waste. With it our duty for it to the landfill. Nothing else.  Additionally, it isn’t that the waste stopped rising.

We realized that:

Constructing infrastructure and placing methods is simply good to handle waste.  To really clear up the waste disaster we have to do two issues. One, improve the waste collected by an enormous margin – we would have liked to match the speed at which littering was growing. Two, we additionally needed to scale back the waste altogether — both from getting generated or from reaching the landfill.  

This required greater than an infrastructure answer. It required us to take a look at the issue in a totally totally different approach. We needed to get everybody to vary their behaviour.

By behavioral change, I imply wanting into our habits and perceptions that we’ve about waste. Waste was not going to get collected by merely asking individuals to be aware.

How many people have tried to make an enormous behavioral change in our lives? Simply take into consideration the final time we obtained away from bed to go for an early morning run.

I’ve tried to make a number of behavioral modifications in my life. Every of these duties have been herculean.

If making a behavioral change in myself was such a troublesome process, think about bringing in complete strangers with totally different outlooks to do the identical. It virtually appeared unattainable. 

However we knew that getting individuals to assume and inculcate a brand new behaviour was the best solution to do it. As a result of when accomplished proper, it was far more efficient and sustainable.


In the present day, I need to share three such tales of behavioral modifications that we’ve got labored on

The primary drawback we would have liked to unravel was to extend the quantity of waste we’re capable of deliver down.

Yearly greater than 5,000 individuals flock to only one among these treks.

As a basic rule, happening a trek meant following depart no hint – which means, you don’t depart something aside from your footprints behind.  However that isn’t the overall follow. It’s ingrained in most of us to throw the waste in hand. Even probably the most acutely aware trekker struggled with this.  If you find yourself climbing a steep mountain, targeted in your subsequent breath, that is the very last thing in your thoughts.

Inevitably, plenty of waste is generated. To wash the mountains, we would have liked to cease individuals from littering and clear the prevailing litter. How can we do that?

Eco bag.  That is an eco bag.  Each trekker of ours wears this. In reality one straightforward method to recognise an Indiahikes trekker is to look out for an Eco-bag.  

Each Indiahikes trekker carries an Eco bag to select up litter on the path.

The instruction to our trekkers was quite simple. Tie the eco luggage in your waist, decide up litter on the path/camp. Give the litter to us on the camp once you attain.

Eco luggage are bringing about behavioural modifications in our trekkers, making them instinctively decide up waste.

With eco luggage in place, we began to note these behavioral modifications:

  • The mere incontrovertible fact that an eco bag was tied to their waist made trekkers cease littering. With a bit nudge, they even began to select up different’s waste. No particular instruction was required.  
  • Till then trekkers all the time noticed the issue as another person’s to unravel.  Extra acutely aware individuals couldn’t see tips on how to clear up the issue. The very presence of eco luggage empowered them to think about themselves as a part of the answer.  
  • The issue turned approachable. With a whole trekking group collaborating, an inherent shyness to take part in such actions lowered.
  • The influence went a lot past than this.  As increasingly individuals noticed us amassing waste, individuals hesitated to litter.  The quantity of littering decreased in proportion to the quantity of individuals happening the trek.
  • Increasingly more individuals from the area people began turning into acutely aware. They began to supply lesser litter themselves.
  • Many trekkers took this apply and began lively clean-up on treks round their houses.
  • Over time this turned the usual for many trek organizations. Now, different trek organizations have their very own eco luggage.  

Slowly eco luggage turned a logo of how treks run.

From a tradition of indifference, we have now introduced in a tradition of proactiveness. In a span of three years we have been capable of deliver down 50,000 kgs of waste from the mountains!

Eco luggage have performed an important position in serving to us convey down waste from the mountains.

Let me additionally say this. Eco bag has not solved the issue utterly.  We nonetheless have individuals who query why they should decide up different’s waste. We nonetheless have plenty of waste to select up.  

However we’re on target.

Over the previous few years, we now have introduced down over 50,000 kilos of waste from Himalayan trails with simply eco luggage.


This brings me to the second problem we had in hand. We would have liked to scale back the waste going to the landfill.  

Once I began working at Indiahikes, I observed that we weren’t segregating our waste at supply. So no matter we collected was going on to the landfills.

Segregating waste reduces the quantity of waste going to landfill by 60-70%. This was unimaginable. Which meant that of this 50,000 kg we might forestall 30,000 kg and much more of waste going to landfills.  

We knew that segregating waste is a vital step. However it’s a troublesome activity. Have you ever tried segregating waste at residence? Most of us don’t.

How are you going to get trekkers to segregate on a trek? Thoughts you, we’re asking them to segregate in a few of the hardest terrain and worst climate after a tough day’s trek.  However we knew it was the suitable approach to trek. The intent to segregate shouldn’t be a pure behavior for any of us. Constructing that behavior is a large problem. We tried a number of methods to try this.  Most of them failed.

For instance, at each campsite we prominently stored three clearly labeled sacks. In our trek chief briefings, everybody was requested to segregate the waste at every campsite.  But, we observed that the sacks nonetheless got here down with combined waste.

We arrange separate dustbins at our campsites for plastic, paper and recyclable waste. They didn’t work.

We realized that even after explaining trekkers didn’t know which waste went the place. Plenty of them didn’t hassle.  

This was an issue.  We launched new posters, illustrations, had extra detailed briefings — however none of them have been efficient.

We launched new posters to see in the event that they have been simpler. This didn’t assist both.

Then in the future, in certainly one of our experiments, we threw a plastic sheet on the bottom and requested trekkers to hitch us segregate.

Spreading out an enormous sheet and making trekkers segregate waste labored!

We observed a direct behaviour change. Trekkers have been fortunately segregating waste. Not solely have been they doing it shortly, they have been extra correct. What was occurring?  

  • Trekkers wanted nudges. They perceive that segregation was essential.  However after a tough day’s trek, it was simply straightforward to skip. The nudge helped.
  • Once they noticed everybody collaborating, it caused a way of collective duty. Even individuals who have been bystanders, participated.  Peer strain began to work.
  • When it was executed collectively as a group exercise, the accuracy improved. Individuals helped one another. Errors have been much less.

Throughout this train, we additionally noticed modifications of their outlook.

  • Our trek leaders heard trekkers saying how straightforward it was to throw waste and the way troublesome it was to fill a sack of rubbish.
  • Loads of them understood the significance of segregating at supply.  The act of segregating waste as soon as it’s combined, made them understand how tedious it was.  
  • For lots of them, it was a second of humility.  They began appreciating individuals who labored in waste administration on the grassroot ranges.

Briefly, the brief act of segregating waste, obtained them to assume.  And doing it on a regular basis on the trek helped construct this behavior on the treks.

As we speak whilst I speak to you, the quantity of waste that we ship to the landfills have lowered dramatically. The remaining is upcycled, recycled or composted.  

Which brings me to my third story.


Our waste assortment was going up, we have been diverting virtually 60% of waste from landfills. What can we do with the 40% waste?

The issue with the 40% is that they’re primarily non-recyclable waste – chocolate wrappers, biscuit wrappers, shampoo sachets – these are the waste that get thrown out very simply.  As soon as I ended and requested a small child why he was throwing down a chips packet, he informed me, what else to do with it?

So, that’s what we labored on – what can we do with these waste?  In villages, a lot of the generated waste is non-recyclable waste. To cease them from littering or burning the waste, we would have liked to point out them the worth the waste holds.  We realized that upcycling was a means to try this. We thought that if they’re able to promote the merchandise out of this waste, they might see it in a different way.

We began with the ladies.  If we might change their minds, then the lads and youngsters would comply with.

To do that, first, we needed to determine the merchandise to upcycle. There have been two constraints:  

  • The merchandise needed to be straightforward to make.  
  • The merchandise wanted to have utility.

After lot of thought, we recognized cushions, bottle bricks and coasters for our merchandise. All of those merchandise have been straightforward to make, no talent required and could possibly be used anyplace.

Initially, it was troublesome to get the ladies to segregate the plastic wrappers or get them to wash it. However once they noticed income out of the gross sales, they began to know its worth.  

Ladies who used to burn or throw the waste, began amassing them.  They might maintain it protected till our product making workshops. We noticed them even choosing up waste from the streets. Cleansing them turned straightforward. The worth of waste modified.  Waste turned alternatives.

Quickly our efforts reached over 12 villages and over 100 ladies. We made a whole lot of those cushions to trekkers. Trekkers have been shopping for them fortunately. The village ladies needed to up their manufacturing!

We began working with ladies within the mountains to assist them upcycle waste and empower them within the course of.

However the bottle bricks have been one other huge hit. We began utilizing the bottle bricks to make benches, cabinets, and a number of utility merchandise for using villages themselves.

All of this resulted in lesser waste going to landfills. I noticed the identical child making bottle bricks with the wrapper as an alternative of throwing it down.  The streets of those villages have been getting visibly cleaner.

A current testomony to our efforts was when the Block Improvement Officer of a distant village Bijenbari close to Darjeeling acquired the complete villagers to make greater than four,000 bottle bricks to construct a wall round his facility. He promised to construct extra infrastructure with the bottle bricks sooner or later. This can be a fantastic instance of a group was taking cost of their waste.  

We additionally upcycled mushy and arduous plastic waste by making bottle bricks. We’ve held a number of workshops in faculties to show youngsters learn how to make them.Bottle bricks work like regular bricks. They can be utilized in small constructions.

The waste we upcycle is in any other case non-recyclable.  Three years in the past, I’ve heard communities inform me that they wanted dustbins, an individual to gather their waste and somebody to take down the waste.  Now, the exact same individuals see different methods of dealing with waste — that value virtually nothing however can deal with virtually every thing.

Earlier, once I researched for long run options — incinerators, pyrolysis machines and recycling crops appeared to be the answer.  These long run options appeared inconceivable to implement in these distant areas. It appeared like a lifeless finish.

Now, we’re capable of clear up this with out the necessity for any of them. All of those happened with a change in notion.


The three tales I shared, present how behavioral change helped us clear the mountains higher.

Now, my workforce is engaged on decreasing the waste altogether at supply from getting generated.

By way of these workouts, I learnt this:  Behavioral change occurs once we make it straightforward for individuals to take duty, present fixed nudges and get them to assign worth.  

What I shared right here, is in truth common and applies to most of our social issues. That makes it a strong device that we can’t ignore.

It takes super effort to easily persuade somebody to vary their thoughts about one thing. So, bringing a few behavioral change can look like a mountainous activity.

However I consider it’s the proper answer to the issue of waste. It’s the last answer.  The ultimate answer doesn’t lie in exterior businesses. It doesn’t lie with the federal government. Not infrastructure.

It lies in behavioral change.

We have to change conduct of individuals and one of the best place to start out is ourselves.

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