Grassroot heroes lead the way in waste management in Sikkim
Nestled in the foothills of Mt. Khangchendzonga, is the quaint town of Yuksom, a place that epitomises the confluence of nature and culture.
Harbouring two designated ASI heritage sites, Yuksom also borders the pristine Khangchendzonga National Park. The National Park, which constitutes nearly 25% of Sikkim’s geographical area is home to hundreds of species of birds which includes north-east specialties like Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Snow Pigeon, Black-tailed Sunbird, Emerald Cuckoo etc. Not to forget, it is also where some elusive mammals like Red Panda, Musk Deer, Himalayan Black Bear and Snow Leopard are spotted.
Interestingly, Yuksom also happens to be the starting point of one of India’s most popular treks- the Goechala Trek. This small town sees hundreds of tourists pouring in each day during the spring season. But this inflow of tourists brings with it the bigger problem of waste management, a burning issue in many of the remote and unmarred habitats of our country. However, one can noticeably observe that Yuksom is relatively cleaner than other tourist spots and there is a reason for this.
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, there were Resource Recovery Centres (RRC) set up across several parts of the country. However, the workings of these RRC have been limited owing to number of reasons spanning from human resource limitations to funding issues. But in Yuksom, the RRC set up under the Rural Management & Development Department, is silently doing phenomenal work and ensuring that the outskirts of the primal Khangchendzonga forests remain spotless and free from litter.
I met with Mr. Tsetan Tashi Bhutia who is in-charge of the RRC at Yuksom, which has been actively working in the space of waste management in the area. The vision of Tashi, is to minimize the waste generated from the town of Yuksom and send as less waste as possible to the landfill, which is located almost 100 kms from the town. An ardent nature enthusiast and experienced birdwatcher, Tashi shares, “One of the first zero waste programmes in Sikkim actually started in Yuksom. Our mandate is to follow the regulations laid down by the National Green Tribunal.”
There are mainly two departments who work in waste management in the Yuksom. One is the Forest Department in collaboration with Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee. Their jurisdiction is the Khangchendzonga National Park. The other is the RRC located at Yuksom, whose jurisdiction includes 5 Gram Panchayat Units (GPU).
How does the RRC work?
The system set up in Yuksom works on the basic principle of segregation. As reiterated by experts world over, this is the best way to ensure that the different waste materials are routed to their respective trajectories which may be composting, recycling or landfilling. Waste from 5 GPUs come to Yuksom for segregation. Tashi has designed a detailed schedule for the entire town which lets people know when the garbage pickup truck will come to their homes/ hotels.
Typically, this pickup truck moves around the town as per the aforementioned prescribed timings and collects the garbage from various establishments like restaurants, hotels, lodges and houses. A small collection fee of Rs. 2500/per month is sought from one Gram Panchayat Unit for this service. The concerned groups are expected to hand over ‘segregated garbage’’ to the pickup truck. But majority of the time, people hand over unsegregated waste. Tashi opines that, they may charge a higher fee of Rs 5000 per month for 1 GPU if they default on sending unsegregated waste This higher charge ofcourse is to inculcate the habit of segregation and also to compensate the staff employed to segregate the waste materials into recyclables.
Once the (largely unsegregated) waste reaches the RRC, bio-degradable waste are composted on site itself to create high quality manure/compost. The rest are divided into recyclables of various kinds, depending on the material. Cardboards, paper and boxes are separated into a pile which are handed over to scrap dealers. Plastic waste like cans, bottles, packets, etc., are divided into sections which can be either be reused (for example: jerry cans are reused as lottas in toilets) or recycled (converted into other products after processing). Clothes that are in decent condition are distributed to disadvantaged groups, particularly since the region experiences bitter cold winter months. Shoes and other rubber materials are sent to a specific place for recycling.
What is left are relatively lesser amounts of garbage which is aggregated over a period of few months and then sent to the landfill. Given that the landfill is located almost 100kms away, and this arduous mountain road will incur a heavy transportation expense to the RRC, Tashi tries to collaborate with local people who happen to be driving in the same direction and who kindly offer their vehicles for transporting the garbage to the landfills.
Despite limited support (both financially and people-wise), he and his team work tirelessly to ensure that Yuksom reduces the amount of the waste that heads to the landfill, by maximizing recycling & composting.
Tashi’s work has far-reaching implications for the conservation of these last pristine habitats of the north east. He was kind enough to show us the entire set up that is running in Yuksom, whilst also spotting some exciting birds in his backyard like the Tickell’s Thrush, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Pied Flycatcher and Hodgson’s Redstart.
Working in the space of waste management has historically been perceived as unimportant and garners little support from the larger community. Despite this, Tashi has been running the RRC successfully now for over a year. His passion to do good for the environment and the next generation is reflected in his words:
“इस मट्टी के साथ आपको जुड़ना है। हमको truly इसके साथ जुड़ना है. मैं अगले generation को क्या दे पायूँगा? Atleast एक साफ़ जगह छोड़ सकता हूँ उनके लिए”Tsetan Tashi Bhutia, In-charge RRC Yuksom
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Mr. Tsetan Tashi Bhutia for his inputs on this post. We met by chance on the streets of Yuksom and bonded over birds. Little did we realize that we shared more common interests like waste management! Seeing my excitement on hearing about the waste management at Yuksom, he spontaneously offered to show us around the RRC where we got to know about the phenomenal work that he and his team have been doing.
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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.
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