The tourist season is on in full swing in Manali and the model multi-crore project to rid the hill station of plastic waste, that ran successfully for five years, seems to be giving away under a heap of plastic garbage.
Despite crores being spent on garbage disposal, the authorities are now actually thinking of transporting waste from Manali to Kullu, 40 km downstream. Himachal Pradesh banned the use of polythene bags in 1999, but plastic waste left behind by tourists — water bottles, wafer and biscuit packs among them — had always been a problem.
This year, with the tourist inflow up by as much as 15 per cent (official figure) and the project literally caving in under the weight of plastic waste, the threat of a serious "ecological hazard" looms large, sources in the government said.
The government has been unable to find scrap dealers to buy plastic waste and the Intergrated Plastic Waste Management plant at Rangri on the outskirts of Manali is brimming with plastic that it can’t seem to get rid of. Tonnes of waste is being added to the plant’s dump every day.
It is located precariously on the left bank of the Beas river at Rangri just outside Manali town. Solid waste from the homes and hotels in Manali is brought to the plant. It is then segregated into biodegradable and plastic waste. The plastic is filled in pits and later sold off to scrap dealers. There are nearly 500 pits and each can accommodate around 80 kg of compressed plastic.
The special project was set up in collaboration with the Norwegian government to be replicated in the rest of the state. "The pits are now filled to capacity. As an emergency measure we might allow the Manali Nagar Panchayat to use the pits in Kullu. But, I have directed them to immediately act on the problem and find buyers for the plastic from within or outside the state," Abhishek Jain, deputy commissioner, Kullu, told HT on Saturday.
Jain held a meeting on Thursday to find a solution. "We cannot allow the waste to be dumped by the river, it affects the ecology of the area," he said. Nagar Panchayat president Vijay Thakur admitted that the civic body has found no takers for the plastic for quite some time.
"Plastic bags are banned but goods coming from outside are still packaged in plastic. Tourists generate more plastic during the season than the locals during the entire year," Thakur said.