The Union Territory of Ladakh, with its exponential rise in tourist footfall, is grappling with the problem of waste disposal. The locals, on the other hand, get rid of their garbage by burning it. The waste produced inside their houses goes into the ‘bukhari’ or heater, also known as the ‘thab’ in the colloquial Ladakhi language. The garbage that builds up outside the house is usually burned in the open fields.
But a 21-year-old boy from Phey village, which is about 15km from Leh, is trying to change locals’ perspective towards this age-old practice and build awareness amongst tourists about sustainable tourism. Currently, in his third year of graduation in Economics, Stanzin Dothon is concerned with the growing air pollution in his hometown. As the vegetation in Ladakh is so scarce, the oxygen content is also quite low.
Thus, raising the need for a proper solid waste management (SWM) system.
Since 2020, Stanzin has conducted various cleanliness drives in his village, wherein he engages the youth to support and conduct such initiatives. Simultaneously, several awareness campaigns for tourists are being carried out. In the very first drive, held on World Environment Day, 5 June 2020, he managed to mobilise a total of 20 children to join him in his cause.
Even though the first cleanliness drive did not turn out as he envisioned, Stanzin did not lose hope and continued his journey. “After collecting the garbage in and around the village, I suggested that we stuff the garbage in plastic bottles and use them to make chairs and tables. I had seen this idea on an Instagram post and wanted to try it out as the main objective of this drive was to show the villages that the garbage need not be burned. Unfortunately, this did not work out as everyone said it would be time consuming and difficult. So, in the end, we ended up burning the collected garbage. However, this did not put a stop to my determination,” he says.
To ensure that this did not happen again on his next drive, which took place in August 2021, he approached the village sarpanch for help. This time, the lockdown served as an opportunity to gather the youth of the village. An estimated 20-30 youths participated, and various families helped in preparing snacks and lunch.
This cleanup drive was quite a success. For the first time, garbage from his village had been properly disposed of. Stanzin, with the help of the sarpanch, arranged a car that took the garbage to Choglamsar, to a recycling centre, which is about 25 km from the village.
The amount of garbage collected for recycling filled up a Mazda truck, which was around 15 sacks.
Expressing happiness over the youth’s environmental conscientiousness, Tsewang Norboo, the sarpanch of the village, says, “Stanzin and his group are an example to others. When he first came to me with the initiative, it was his positive outlook towards waste management that amazed me. Now whenever we have meetings, it is through the youth’s actions that I try to build up the older generation’s environmental conscience.”
Through the second drive, Stanzin realised that in the beginning, it may seem impossible to achieve something, but given the time, hard work and resources, it can be done.
To make the tourists conscious of the growing environmental degradation due to improper waste disposal, Stanzin chose Leh’s main bazaar to carry out his campaign. Using signboards, he spreads awareness to the tourists and people from all over Ladakh who visit the main market.
The signboards are a way to make the people aware and cultivate sustainable living and introspect how in the name of development we often harm the environment. They read — “We were better yesterday”, “Our Convenience must not be nature’s inconvenience”, “All we need is less”, “Today we can fix tomorrow”, etc.
Stanzin’s family plays a major role in helping him out with his initiative. “We helped him during his initiatives in whatever way we could. To see his drive towards the wellness of the village and him encouraging the youth to care for the environment makes me proud,” says his mother, Stanzin Lamo.
Motivation Behind The Journey
Stanzin’s journey to becoming an environmental warrior began when he was in Delhi to pursue his graduation from Pannalal Girdharlal Dayanand Anglo — Vedic college (PGDAV). He remembers the time he went to Delhi and witnessed all types of accumulated garbage around the National Capital. Sharing his experience, he says, “In Ladakh, we do not have such an extent of garbage. But when I went to Delhi, I was shocked to see the amount of garbage in the surroundings. It was quite an eye-opener. Soon, I joined a society in college named ‘Geo Crusaders’, which worked towards the betterment of the environment through various drives and talks by experts. I was an active member of the society and soon became one of the coordinators.”
As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded, he had to return home and that’s when he decided to put to use the learnings acquired from society. Currently, Stanzin along with the village sarpanch is planning to set up a recycling unit in collaboration with the neighbouring villages so that the residents are encouraged towards proper waste disposal.
It has been more than one year since Stanzin started his initiative. Initially, many villagers were not supportive of his initiative. He faced a lot of challenges in making the locals understand the importance of proper waste management. He believes every sector needs to be equally responsible for managing and treating waste.
Stanzin has also formed an unofficial youth group called ‘Lothun Lobthuk Tsogspa Phey’, which translates to ‘United Youth Group of Phey’, that works towards the betterment of the village. They educate locals, especially young minds about cleanliness, hygiene and sustainable living. The group also conducts cleanliness drives, field trips to recycling centres to understand the process of recycling. On 15 February, they visited Pagir in Leh- An organisation dedicated to inclusion advocacy and livelihood generation of people with disability. They are also engaged in the environmental management of the delicate ecosystems of the mountain region.
They also teach locals about the effects of burning garbage and organise various group activities such as drawing competitions, skits amongst the youths to promote the reduction of plastic waste, waste management, etc.
Stanzin Tseskit, who is a member of the group, says, “We joined his initiative during Environment Day and after seeing the outcome of the drive and getting to see the difference we made, it felt quite nice. We wanted to see more such changes and that is what inspired us to join the group.”
Soon, Stanzin hopes to encourage youth from other villages to form such groups so that they can follow suit. But until then, he continues to go out with his signboards to spread awareness about the environment as much as he can.
Charkha Features; Written by Karuna Chhimed; Edited by Yoshita Rao