While most of us are still grappling with ways to reduce, reuse and recycle, Lachung - a small town in Sikkim - has already forbidden the entry of disposable mineral water bottles. The place that officially became a part of India 44 years ago, is celebrating Sikkim Day today.“ Lachung aur Lachen mein plastic ka paani ka bottle allowed nahi hai. Idhar hi fenk ke jana padega,” the locals inform tourists travelling to either of the two places.
This might just be one of the most successful plastic bottle bans of the country, and there is a very good reason for it. This campaign of sorts, is being run almost entirely by locals, and cab drivers who regularly ferry people to and from the place. While the government has put up signboards to inform people about the ban, it is the local people of the area who are making sure that it does not become just another rule that no one bothers to follow.
I recently travelled to various parts of Sikkim, including the beautiful town of Lachung. Some 30 kilometres away from the town, my cab driver informed me that I could not carry my disposable plastic water bottle into Lachung, because it was against the rules. I was told that I may choose to drink the water and dump the bottle in a bin, or transfer water into one of the reusable water bottles available at almost every shop. I was also informed that my bags will be checked and if disposable plastic bottles were found, I would have to pay a fine of Rs 5,000.
The homestay I had chosen to spend the night in, was also hosting a couple of other families, who like me were scheduled to travel to Yumthang – which is approximately 24 kilometres away from Lachung. One of them had managed to sneak in a couple of plastic bottles, despite repeated warnings. The next five minutes made it clear, how and why the town has managed to keep out tonnes of plastic – the owner of the homestay, my cab driver and their cab driver, all banded together to reprimand them for breaking the rules. The family, however, saw it as an interference and said they’d rather pay the fine than dump their bottles. Before their cab departed, the owner of the homestay clicked a photo of the cab they were travelling in. I’m not sure what he did with that, but it was the first time I had seen locals stand up so fiercely to uphold a rule. Clearly, it takes a village to keep a town clean.
On my way to Yumthang Valley, I spotted 2-3 plastic bottles strewn about in the otherwise picture-perfect, almost unbelievably beautiful landscape – possibly thrown out of the window by some tourists who were too cool to care.
Manika ParasherYet, for the most part, I did not see plastic inundating the area, piling up in random corners and flowing down the river formed by a melting glacier. I did not really come across any kind of inspection check post, and it sort of became clear that at the helm of this extremely successful no-plastic-bottles campaign, were its locals.
Their morality, sense of belonging, respect and love for their town is what drives them to keep it clean. In a world were rules are written, forgotten and scrapped off almost every day, this town is an example of what good intent and unity can achieve.
Plastic is a huge problem all over the world, and one-use plastic is the biggest demon of them all. As per a report by the Guardian in 2017, a million plastic bottles were being bought every minute the world over, and the number was predicted to jump another 20% by 2021. So, while banning just plastic bottles might not be the complete solution, it indeed is a leap towards a cleaner, plastic-free world. The town of Lachung is proof that one step at a time – done properly – can make a world of difference.
Manika ParasherAs citizens, we need to do better than just talk about having rules and criticise the government for not doing their job properly. As tourists, we need to become more compassionate, cautious and judicious with how we travel and what we leave behind.
I went to Sikkim as just another traveller, but I came back a better tourist. The hope is that the town and people of Lachung will inspire change all over the world – change, not just in deeds, but in attitude too.