Presently, almost all of humankind knows or at least has a vague idea about the climate crisis and the causes behind it. The factors causing this alarming rate of global catastrophes happening in recent times can be directly or compartmentally tied to the human race and its unending search for supremacy in a vast array of respective fields of research, exploration, scientific advancements, infrastructures, military development, etc.
We are beings with unparalleled ambition and with that, we have left a footprint in the history of the planet and it is anything but natural – it is carbon. Carbon footprint is the number of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or a community; as a species, we have now become dangerously close to apocalypse, the Amazon rainforest wildfires, the Australian bushfires,
East Africa drought, heatwaves in Pakistan, the Indonesian floods, and the
alarming rates of hurricanes all around the globe are only a few markers for this presentiment of an impending crisis, the sort which would act as an
extermination process to wipe out the virulent creatures on the planet.
As humans, we have been acting as viruses dwelling on the host body; to put things into perspective, if we have rats and cockroaches dwelling within our houses bringing in all sorts of garbage and with that, all sorts of diseases, we would certainly do an extermination or at least arrange an exodus. The same way it is only natural for the planet to reciprocate in hurt, with everything we are causing, but not every human is all-pernicious in their dwelling of this world, in recent years we have seen a number of movements led mostly by youngsters and backed by people who understand the crisis and fear for the planet’s future and well being.
In Sikkim, we have many NGOs trying to raise awareness and voices to educate people on what the climate crisis is and what causes it, but it is the lack of social coordination and knowledge at the forefront of the problem that is causing ahiatus in any industrious action towards rectifying the problem. Sikkim Chronicle researched about the actions people were taking to try and rectify the problem in its roots, which is waste. The waste that humans produce on a daily basis in our march towards advancements in all fields, has been the primary cause in the broader spectrum of problems behind this decline in the collective health of our planet.
Mr Pritam Pany is the founder and CEO of Voyage, an independent private
enterprise working in the space of zero waste and sustainability. With the vision of achieving Zero Waste Himalaya, this enterprise has been working with the principles of a circular economy and dignity of labour. Voyage provides more on the hardware solutions to waste management issues that are designed for the hilly terrains, with addition to focusing on software interventions that work towards driving a behavioural change amongst citizens.
In conversation with Sikkim Chronicle, Pritam spoke about his journey with
Voyage has been poetic, like its name it is an on-going journey towards zero
waste and sustainability.
“A decade ago, I was not an environmentalist. I was unbothered about the waste that our country is drowning in, I was in my comfort, as a graduate from IIT Roorkee and with a corporate high paying job. During my trip to Austria, I saw that it was super clean with every household having four dustbins that took care of different types of waste which went on to a community dustbin for sorting, the country itself was super clean.”
Pritam reminisces, and further adds, “After returning I saw the waste my country as a problem, how India was drowning in it and how it was accepted as a part of the society, and that came on as a trigger, emotionally and thought process wise; it gradually grew and I started attending trade expos learning more about waste management. In 2016, I got disgusted with my corporate job and quit it to become a man on a mission to solve the problem of waste in our country systematically.”
A country-oriented person, Pritam started his dream of achieving his goals
towards zero waste from Jaipur where his financer backed out saying that
working in waste management and garbage was below their caste, then his
Voyage sailed to Bangalore where he saw that people were doing it for almost two decades but the scale of the management was not happening fast enough as it took 19 years for the pioneer there to manage 100 tonnes waste per day. In search of the right collective mindset, to ignite such movement of waste management Pritam saw the news of Sikkim becoming 100 percent organic state, an example for the world and in his inquisition he came to Sikkim as a tourist and was impressed with people here who understood a chemical-free lifestyle.
“People know what organic is and people know a green lifestyle, if that is
possible here then a zero-waste state is hundred per-cent possible, and I believe if achieved, Sikkim can be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” says Pritam, with high hopes.
If one had to start a discourse on waste management in Sikkim, 50 tonnes of waste gets dumped in the Martam landfill, also known among locals as Battis number landfill, Sikkim herself has several things to tackle in terms of achieving being a zero-waste state, from policies, infrastructure, and social coordination.
Sikkim has an underlying issue of social coordination to be set in stone to achieve proper waste management. There are a lot of NGOs doing awareness campaigns, clean-ups and protests asking for a cleaner world, with a cleaner more educated society, but seldom know about the policies that have been ratified by the government.
Pritam sheds light on the work Sikkimese government has been doing towards waste management.“The Sikkimese community has been in a blame game, the people blame the government and vice versa. The policy and the action plan of Sikkim in the zero waste roadmap have already been ratified in April 2019, the only problem here is social coordination.
The government is setting up a 5 tonnes per day biogas plant and nobody knows about it, including the officials of the relevant departments.”
He further adds, “The NGOs that have been doing their bit with the campaigns, workshops about zero-waste lifestyles, and clean-up drives are incumbent to bring in waste from inaccessible places instead of burning them, it is needed to change the waste management programs and to be one step further in being close to zero waste. Everybody has their own agendas and in retrospect, the war with waste isn’t a one-person war, it is everyone’s duty.”
People don’t know about the hardware government is making, and the
government doesn’t know what the citizens are doing, so there’s evidence that though rocking amidst the lack of social coordination, Sikkim’s intentions are true to her being a nature-loving state. Speaking with Pritam made it clear that private start-ups for waste management are taking an ecological route by not using any incinerator tech to get rid of the waste since waste as a whole is composed streams of waste types like of wet waste that is mostly organic trash, dry waste which includes recyclables and non-recyclables, e-waste that consists of discarded electronic devices and components, rejects which are human sanitary wastes, and hazardous waste that includes vessels that can catch fire.
“People seem to have this notion that one machine would solve all the waste problems, it is not like that at all. There are twenty different technologies for twenty different materials.” Pritam educates Sikkim Chronicle on the waste treatment, further, he adds, “Only the sanitary wastes should get to 32nd Mile landfill but all of it is getting there as we speak. Every waste stream has a different technology to process it, like wet waste can be processed for biogas and composts, dry waste: paper can be used to make paper products, I make paper bags of it, tetra packs can be used to make boards out of it, pet bottles can be processed to make polyester clothes and so much more.”
The biggest challenge that Sikkim faces can be described as a supply-chain issue, after getting discarded from different areas from houses to hotels to larger institutions, collection and processing have not been as aptly managed to make wastes recycle ready as it should be. Voyage has already been working independently, installing waste management projects in army compounds, there is a unit at Ganju Lama Dwar Army camp, in which there is an instalment of four composting systems across 10,000 sq meters for wet wastes in and around the encampment, and a dry waste centre where dry waste is segregated into 20 streams of different materials that are sent to the appropriate recycling centres.
The unit itself only handles half a ton per day and it is only for the Army establishment, with the 50 tonnes that get dumped from Sikkim there’s still 99 percent that is getting dumped in the landfill.
“Two years ago when I came to Sikkim, the landfill was quite empty, now it has become 15 feet high,” Pritam remarks. The government document itself says that any establishment that is more than 5,000 sq meters has to install these kinds of waste management units as that Voyage has installed. Then comes urban and rural housing waste management where the wastes should be segregated at the source, which is usually individuals themselves, or the generated waste will become a mountain itself.
“I keep going to the landfill, because it is my job, comparing with the time I first came to Sikkim, I can now walk on air that was 15 feet high above,” he says.
Voyage, in their journey, has sailed to manage half a ton waste independently and they have a target to at least manage 50 tonnes per day, which is the approximate amount Sikkim produces in a day.
“The plan is already in motion; I want to install private infrastructures for waste management and processing, which can reduce the burden from the landfill, and from there it is in reverse; I need land and funding, which is the story of every young start-up”, he says. “I want to take the waste, process it ecologically, use recycled products to make roads, bio-gas, clothes and all kinds of stuff, build a notion that circular economy is appealing, we have even made a hashtag called “sustainablesexy.”
Sikkim Chronicle has found evidence that Sikkimese people and government has a heart for organic and sustainable, all it lacks is social coordination, the only way to put an end to the waste problem is to put the waste in all of their different types, where they are supposed to be put. The waste problem is increasing exponentially with the lifestyle that we have chosen to settle for; it is only time before waste contamination causes diseases and the hydrocarbon compounds released add on to the already alarming global climate crisis. Humans are drowning in waste and it is already time that we act on to it, individually.