Just how often have you got asked this question in the past few months: “So, when are things getting back to normal?”
The psychological effect of the lockdown has been particularly bad on lovers of the great outdoors — the hikers, the campers, the ones who keep the adventure gear businesses running. Every year, we take a week or two off from our drab job (the one we need to buy our cameras) to find ourselves in the lap of the mountains. We look for social media names that lend us the momentary trappings of monastic super-tramps. We take back pictures and leave tons of trash on these very trails. In 2018, volunteers collected four lakh plastic waste items in the Himalayan states in a single, two-hour operation.
Well, cleaning up not only after ourselves but also the unimaginable volumes of waste already lying in the natural environs is going to be the new normal. Just like empty aisle seats, digital payments, frequent health check-ups, continuous sanitisation wherever we go.
It’s not moving mountains — just picking up as you go up them.
“This year, I did a plogging run of 50km along the trail of Chambal river and the Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve in Kota, Rajasthan, to create a world record for the longest plogging by an individual. It was a beautiful trail with not much human intervention and even then, I filled up 11 bags of trash,” shares Ripu Daman Bevli, who started the activity in 2017 to realise his dream of a fit and litter-free India. Bevli is known as the ‘Plogman of India’ and was named the plogging ambassador of India in 2019.
Overcrowding and dumping of plastic litter in mountain trails aren’t a new problem. Trekking and hiking have grown as an industry, so much so that calling places untouched and unsullied is something of a paradox. Lakshmi Selvakumaran of Indiahikes says, “Those that are very popular weekend treks require plogging urgently. So treks like Triund, Kheerganga require them. Then there are treks that are also pilgrimage routes — the Chopta to Chandrashila trek, the Valley of Flowers trek — that require intense plogging initiatives. To the eastern side, Sandakphu in West Bengal has road access till Sandakphu. This makes the trail also very popular to non-trekkers, [resulting in] high volumes of waste.”
Travel companies organise sustainable group treks — the impact is definitely much higher that way, argues Lakshmi. However, it is going to be essential that even those doing it independently take it up actively. It isn’t complicated; one can take sacks (folded inside your daypacks) and reusable gloves along. In case there are no trash bins around, Bevli says, “Keep your litter in your bag or pocket, take it back home, segregate into dry and wet waste before giving it to the concerned authority or municipal corporation.”
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One need not be accompanied by a large band of fellow trekkers to plog. It can be taken up as a way of travel and outdoors exploration of the natural environment — on hikes, forest trails, beaches, and urban biodiversity zones like nature parks and gardens.