WASTE MANAGEMENT AND TOURISM
Panel discussions organized by EQUATIONS and GAIA
-A brief note
Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS) in collaboration with Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) organized a pair of panel discussions on Waste Management and Tourism. The first panel, held on the 24th of November 2021, discussed the ‘Politics, policies and legal frameworks’ of waste management with respect to tourism. The second panel was organized on the 26th of November 2021, and it focused on the ‘Role of Local Communities and Producers’ in waste management at tourist places. Both the panels saw speakers and expert panelists from various parts of the country with diverse professional expertise.
Panel I - Waste Management and Tourism: Politics, Policies and Legal Frameworks
While exact figures are not available, extrapolations suggest that the tourism industry in India accounts for about 30% of waste from an estimated 62 million tons generated by the nation annually. It is assumed that close to 4 million individuals – men, women, and children – are involved in trash collection around the nation’s cities, accounting for a sizeable volume of waste that gets recovered for recycling or re-use. This informal and invisible sector is active in big and small Indian cities alike, complementing and sometimes even substituting for the services of official bodies (Good Tourism Blog, 2019).
Ms. Manvel Alur (CEO & Founder- Environmental Synergies in Development and General body member- EQUATIONS) pointed out in her keynote talk how waste management is critically linked into the ecosystem. She mentioned that the best solutions can be found through local awareness, ownership, and stewardship. There is a need to create a system of circularity within local frameworks and local solutions. A large difference is made when the community takes ownership. Ms. Manisha Pandey (Co-founder- Village Ways) gave the example of Supi village in Uttarakhand where the local people actively promoted the zero-waste concept and came up with a model of sustainable tourism. Regular awareness programmes at village/community level have made a big impact.
‘Tourists bring in a lot of litter into destinations, which is then left for the local community to clean up’, said Mr. Dhritiman Hazarika (Marketing Architect, Green Squad). Dhritiman shared the story of Siluk hamlet, previously known as the ‘gobar gaon’ (translated to cowdung village) and how the villagers took it up on themselves to transform it into Arunachal Pradesh’s cleanest village during the pandemic. The community created a zero-waste village through the Swachh Siluk Abhiyaan. Mr. Aviram Rozin, (Founder, Sadhana Forest) also spoke about how conscious lifestyle changes have reduced the quantities of waste generated at Sadhana Forest in Auroville. Some measures adopted include shifting to water free toilets, green and energy efficient stoves, use of coconut husks and ash for dishwashing instead of detergents etc.
Mr. Prashant Varma (Director, Deer Park Institute) emphasized the importance of learning from success stories around the world. He said that it is primarily important to accept the gravity of the situation we are in and then make changes at the habitual levels. Humans have ignored the fundamental questions surrounding waste management and outsourcing garbage management is not a solution.
During the Q&A session with the audience, Mr. Dhritiman listed out the challenges faced by the community in Siluk. He said that companies accepted only large quantities of waste for recycling, which was difficult for the villagers to provide on a daily or weekly basis. He also mentioned that managing sanitary and medical waste was a challenging task. Commenting on the nuances of caste considerations in waste management, Ms. Manisha mentioned that a community, as a whole, needs to be trained for the job and not just a particular group.
In the course of the expert panel discussion, Mr. Anil Taneja (Regional Director- PHD Chamber) spoke about how spiritual & cultural orientations will add value to the overall approach of waste management. He gave the example of Bhutan on how the country has minimized its waste and scored high on the SDGs in cleanliness. Mr. Jayakumar C. (Executive Director- Thanal) quoted a recent study on the plastic littering index along the coast of Kerala where the industry has now come forward to move the plastic from the beaches that the sea has returned to humans. He also stressed how we are putting the burden of climate change on future generations while there are still ways to resolve the issues at our ends. Ms. Manvel reiterated that there is a need to focus on the urgency, but that does not mean that there is no more hope. No amount of waste management will be of use if one is not mindful of their consumptions.
Panel II - Waste Management and Tourism: Role of Local Communities and Producers
Tourism is a vital component in contributing to economic development. It is crucial to address waste and tourism in future deliberations on national development strategies and policy. Ms. Miriam Azurin (Deputy Director- Asia Pacific, GAIA) in her keynote talk said that we need to ask ourselves, if we are ready with a strong waste management system, now that tourism is reopening. There is a need to rethink ‘waste’ in tourism and map the accountability of waste.
Mr. Kinzong Bhutia (Board member, Kanchenjunga Conservation Committee) presented a case study on the waste management system practiced in Kanchenjunga National Park. He spoke about the process of moving towards zero waste initiatives through public consultation with the stakeholders. Tourists entering the national park are made to sign a declaration form, where they report the quantity of plastic they carry into the park, and it is ensured that they come back with it.
Talking about the waste management system in the Andaman Islands, Ms. Garima Poonia (Founder- Kachrewale Project) said that more than 4 lakh people visit the islands every year and the waste generated as a result of this tourism is either dumped or burnt. She spoke about the challenges faced in transporting waste to the mainland as the island lacks recycling facilities. The discourse needs to go beyond waste management and should also look at assessing the tourism capacity of the place.
Mr. D. Manoj Kumar (Project Executive- Thenmala Ecotourism Promotion Society) spoke about initiatives like Project Green Grass and Project Green Carpet adopted in the various tourism destinations. He mentioned how sensitization campaigns in these destinations have brought about positive changes in the lifestyles of local communities with respect to management of waste. Also speaking about impacts of poor waste management in tourist destinations in Kerala, Mr. Sreejith P. Nair (CEO- Kabani Community Tourism and Services) pointed out that local communities often fear opening their places to tourism, lest these places end up getting piled with the garbage generated by tourists. He spoke about how community programmes were modelled, and committees were set up to plan effective waste management within villages. He stressed that such models work well when stakeholders support each other.
Expert panelist Mr. Ashish Kumar (Thought leader and Co-chairman- FICCI Travel Technology and Digital Committee) and Ms. Pinky Chandran (Founding Member, Solid Waste Management Round Table, Hasirudala) also shared their thoughts on the matter of contention. Mr. Ashish said that about 70% of tourism has moved to rural settings. This brings in expectations from many new players. The Government needs to collaborate with other industries in order to come up with new programmes for the tourism industry, simultaneously working with communities in a structured manner. Corporate social responsibilities need to be looked at with more seriousness when looking at waste management in rural places. Ms. Pinky pointed out that countries use tourism as a soft diplomatic policy tool. There is a demand for constant sensitization in local communities and it is high time that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is introduced efficiently in tourist places.
It is truly the need of the hour that the tourism industry addresses the aspect of waste management keeping in mind the local communities and the cleansers. Efforts like the Kumbaya in Madhya Pradesh are beautiful examples to cite, which see that even the last scrap of fabric finds its way into a beautiful product, and nothing goes into waste, while empowering poor women and people of disability with the art of stitching at the same time. Local communities, producers and tourists have equal roles in managing waste in tourist destinations.