Sunday, September 19, 2010
“Leave Footprints, Not Garbage” - Garbage Girl cleans the home of the Dalai Lama
In the last 18 months the passion and vision of a woman from Norfolk, England, and the Mountain Cleaners, the organisation she founded, has cleaned up some of the most beautiful parts of the Himalayas with the help of hundreds of people from around the world.
Jodie Underhill arrived in Northern India to volunteer and was horrified to see the amount of garbage devastating the beauty of the area. The Triund mountain trek, in the Himachal Pradesh district, was a dumping ground for tones of unsightly waste. This area that is home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, is visited by thousands of tourists both local and international so Jodie started organising mass clean ups which developed into the formation of the Mountain Cleaners and earned her the nickname Garbage Girl.
The group has been watched with interest and has and recently received a ‘Green Hero’ award from the Centre of Media Studies resulting in TV news coverage and articles in numerous magazines, newspapers and websites across the globe.
Funded purely by donations, the Mountain Cleaners are not just about clearing an area temporarily. They are working alongside government organisations, NGO’s, local people, businesses, tourists and schools. Through a combination of direct action, liaison and educational awareness-raising they are providing sustainable solutions, ensuring that there are options for people to dispose of their waste correctly, reusing or recycling as much as possible.
Jodie says “We believe this model is simple and easily replicable at relatively low cost, and we are now expanding our activities to include larger players such as TetraPak, Indian Railways and Coca Cola.”
Talking to vendors in Triund and the introduction of a waste segregation scheme significantly reduced the amount of rubbish being burnt or dumped. Mountain Cleaners volunteers regularly collect waste sorted by the vendors and have been gradually clearing the garbage already discarded . Mules then help transport all the waste down the mountain. Recyclables are passed on to local waste workers to give them extra income and non recyclables are disposed of in the town’s waste container. Previously all this would have been debris thrown down the mountain sides or burnt, releasing dangerous chemicals into the pristine Himalayan air.
Local individuals and businesses have enthusiastically embraced the simple and effective changes. Thanks to them and the efforts of Jodie and the Mountain Cleaners volunteers, Triund is being restored to its natural pristine beauty and the model is currently being expanded and rolled out to other villages, remote mountain camps, trekking routes, pilgrimages and tourist areas.
The walls alongside the Triund Forestry Department now read ‘Leave footprints, not garbage’; a message that the Mountain Cleaners hope will stay with people long after they leave the Himalayas.