In the Himalayas, exchange your plastic for bamboo

Posted on 07 January 2021.

How can you stop tourists leaving mountains of empty plastic bottles behind when they visit the region? A village in northern India has a creative solution. And is inspiring the world.

Tourists are asked to leave their plastic bottles outside the village or transfer their water into reusable bamboo bottles, available in most stores.

In India, only half of the 25,000 metric tons of plastic produced daily are collected. With no effective nationwide waste management system, the country plans to phase out single-use plastics by 2022. But in the meantime, local authorities are having to innovate to reduce plastic consumption.

The northeastern state of Sikkim had made progress on the issue: single-use plastic bottles have been banned from sale since 1998 and disposable plastic bags since 2011.

In this territory bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal, large numbers of tourists come to enjoy the spectacular Himalayan landscape: glaciers, alpine meadows, Buddhist monasteries perched on the hillsides, together with amazing peaks such as the Kangchenjunga, which rises to 8,586 meters.

Welcoming these thousands of visitors also means managing large quantities of plastic waste - starting with the single-use water bottles they bring along. 

Perched 2,750 m up in the mountains in the north of the area, the village of Lachen - whose name means "the great passage" - was particularly impacted by this type of pollution. But following large-scale mobilization of its roughly 2,500 inhabitants, the municipality implemented a new series of measures.

Lachen became the first town in the state to completely ban plastic bottles. The Lachen Tourism Development Committee (LTDC) even carries out vehicle checks to make sure that no plastic bottles enter the village - offenders are fined.


Bamboo bottles

But it is mainly thanks to an order for 1,000 bamboo bottles from the neighboring state of Assam that the scheme is making a real difference: tourists are asked to leave their plastic bottles outside the village or transfer their water into the reusable bottles available in most stores.

Launched in early March 2020 at the Losar festival, the most popular and important annual celebration in Sikkim, these bamboo water bottles have attracted residents and tourists alike, to such an extent that another state, Kerala in southern India, has decided to follow their example.

And this is just the first step for Sikkim. This tiny Indian state, in 2018 recognized as the world’s first fully organic state by the United Nations, is now considering tackling, the outer packaging on cookies.