Today, in 2021, the 12–20 tons of waste generated from all 13 wards of Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, are managed by a single non-profit. It wasn’t always as unified, as it started with a single man cleaning up one street in 1995.
The story of citizen-led solid-waste management in Mussoorie is unlike any other in India, because the pilots of a series of initiatives, Richard Wector and Dana Crider, were not citizens of India. They were both American math teachers at Woodstock School.
When asked what it took to bring an entire industry together, Sandeep Sahni, the president of the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Uttarakhand, told The Kodai Chronicle, ‘Besides our love for our hometown and tourism being our bread and butter, to be very honest, seeing this foreigner give up his own job and put in his own retirement fund to clean up Mussoorie inspired us [the hotel industry] to come together.’ His sentiments were reflected separately by Dr Rajesh Kumar Singh, Senior Municipal Medical Officer of Mussoorie, who is involved with waste management work.
Tracing the story upstream, Dana Crider, founder of the NGO KEEN, tells the story of Wector. ‘There was this slightly eccentric computer and math teacher who would walk back and forth from school to home with two bags—one filled with his own books and the other filled with trash. Wector did this for many months until one day we hired a few men to clean the nallahs on this same route.’
From there, this group went on to look for ways to recycle and dispose of whatever they found. This was a loose arrangement amongst the teachers and the few workers on the ground who slowly organised themselves between 1995 and 2010 as CLEAN (Care for and Learning from the Environment and Nature). In this journey CLEAN first started cleaning the hillsides, supported by compassionate citizens, and then took on the waste management of first Woodstock’s kitchens and eventually the entire school’s.
CLEAN evolved into KEEN, which opened up from servicing just the school to one ward of Mussoorie. According to KeenMussoorie.org, in early 2016 KEEN was requested by the Mussoorie Nagar Palika Parishad to undertake the waste removal of a small designated sector of the town, where there were an estimated 15 hotels and 200 citizen residences. The team’s work gained recognition amongst the residents and the town authorities, and KEEN was eventually awarded all 13 wards of Mussoorie. ‘This helped us build a livelihood first for six people, and today 134 people are employed by KEEN. We were lucky to have caught the compassionate view of the local MLAs and municipality,’ said Crider.
To build a new system that fit the solid-waste management goals of the town, the hotel industry had to invest in new infrastructure and training, and add a new billing component to their room tariffs.
Sahni, who is also the director of Brentwood Hotels and Resorts, explains what it took for an entire industry to shift over to a lower-impact system. ‘At first all of us were concerned by all the new costs. Looking back now those worries all seem so insignificant. There is an ongoing cost of paying KEEN on a monthly basis. There was a cost of adding two dustbins for wet and dry, instead of one. Training and monitoring staff took about four months to ensure the new systems were running. Some of the bigger hotels built their own compost pits on their properties. We switched plastic disposable bottles in all the rooms to glass bottles. For this we needed larger RO systems on-site. This added a cost of about Rs 70 to Rs 80 per room per month, depending on the size of the hotel.’
Ashutosh Sati, Executive Officer, Mussoorie Municipal Council, breaks down the specifics for us. ‘Mussoorie creates between 12 and 20 tonnes of solid waste per day, depending on the number of tourists. We estimate that out of the 13 wards where segregation has been implemented, at least 9 of the wards are segregating waste perfectly. And this is the first thing we look at—segregation at source. Then comes transportation within Mussoorie, with which we have no problem at all. The final part of this process is the transportation to Dehradun, to the waste processing plant. This is where we spend the most currently. Our annual solid-waste management budget is currently about Rs 4 crore. We hope to reduce our expenditure here by building infrastructure locally.’
Dr Singh fleshed out the plan. ‘We are currently inviting bids for a biomethanisation and pyrolysis plant in half an acre of land here in Mussoorie. The MoEF has given us Rs 2.63 crore for this plant. That will help us build a facility locally that will reduce the 12–18 metric tons of waste that we send to Dehradun by 50%.’
Now the local citizens, the primary stakeholders, are completely comfortable with the new system; the hotels are on board too, and this takes care of boarding tourists, says Sahni. The next big challenge in systems-building is to effectively manage the waste generated, and littered, by day trippers who come up the hill in the morning and leave before dark. This profile of tourists generally travels with packaged food and plastic water bottles for a picnic. Many of them throw their waste down the hillside, making waste collection almost impossible. For potential solutions, Dr Singh pointed at ongoing educational and poster campaigns that the town aims to strengthen in the near future.
Read more about the challenges to read the Common Lessons across all hill stations in our Overview, and the unique lessons from each of the towns by clicking on the links below: