A Year without Travel

It’s been well over a year since I last travelled, by which I mean back-to-back travelling solo or with friends, not short trips for work or family events. On 24th February 2021, I flew home after spending two days in Visakhapatnam discussing content for a disaster preparedness manual for community radios. After the workshop, I had time to walk to the beach, late in the evening, and the only thing that caught my attention was the “garbage”. 

Prior to that in January 2021, I travelled to  Delhi, Konark and  Kakinada on work related assignments and to Coorg on a family trip and again I realised that the majority of my conversations were around sustainable development goals, disaster and waste management. 


In Orissa, I managed to take time off for 20 minutes and visit Golden Beach, Puri and I was overwhelmed by the maintenance. It ticked all the boxes from a first impression in terms of cleanliness. The sands were devoid of any garbage, the beach was clear and welcoming, waste bins were empty but easily accessible, and so it come as no surprise that Golden Beach was awarded the Blue Flag Certification – an ecolabel  conferred by the international, non-governmental, organisation FEE (The Foundation for Environment Education) that advocates for sustainable development in freshwater and marine ecosystems – and lists 33  criteria for assessment.  Criteria 15, 17 and 18 are crucial as it specifies litter management, beach cleaning – in consideration of the local flora and fauna, without the use of chemicals or insecticides, storm water flows and outlets,  waste collection, minimum three-way segregation, bins made of recycled products, spacing of bins, frequency of emptying bins, secondary recycling, adequate recycling infrastructure within the beach premises.

Golden Beach, Orissa

On a side note, the disappointing bit was – One, the use of single use plastics at eateries (though officially banned in Orissa). Interestingly an awareness program was conducted in February 2021, to raise awareness on the same. 

And the second, the No Pets Allowed signage, as when we talk about sustainability we need to incorporate the definition of inclusion. Anyway, that will make for a separate article.

Soon after the Orissa trip, my partner and I took time off to celebrate our anniversary and headed to a friend’s resort, IBNI in Coorg, and while the disappointment here again is the No Pets Policy, the resort has put in thought and effort to limit disposables and manage waste in house. 

Shreya Krishnan at IBNI : Source Shreya Krishnan’s Instagram

According to Shreya Krishnan, Advisor to IBNI, ‘At IBNI, we follow a minimal waste policy. We try to use minimal plastic and request our guests to not carry any plastic to the premises. We actively explore ways of repurposing our waste and most of our needs are met by objects made out of wood, metal, and natural substances. Our kitchen functions without plastic including cling wrap. We use leaves, bamboo and other natural alternatives. We ensure everything is made from scratch to eliminate packets. All our decor, festive elements, and props are handmade. We believe in following the 4R’s. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. All our kitchen waste is composted inhouse. The vegetable scraps are sent as fodder to the farm animals that we rear. Dry waste is further segregated in our recycling room into paper, plastic, metal, glass, rubber, milk packets, and coconut husks. This is sent to Hasiru Dala in Mysore for responsible processing. The leaves that line our pathways are turned into leaf litter compost and used to nourish young saplings’. 

Most bulk generators face the challenges of managing sanitary waste and Shreya agrees,  ‘We struggle with sanitary waste such as menstrual pads and diapers, the sheer volumes of this is disheartening because they are not biodegradable or compostable. Every time the incinerator is operated, there is an impact on the environment. We surely want to ensure that we can focus our energy on increasing awareness in these areas. Specifically when it comes to sanitary waste. These are things tourists should be aware of and should look at biodegradable alternatives When it comes to sanitary waste and sanitary waste management.’

Back in Delhi and then Vishakaptanam, garbage was a common sight that dotted the landscape and soon faded with the pandemic making headlines.  The tourism industry and allied sector was badly affected. The Business Standard (April 2020), reported that ‘during April-June, the Indian tourism industry is expected to book a revenue loss of Rs 69,400 crore, denoting a year-on-year (y-o-y) loss of 30 per cent’. 

Impact in India

Responding to a query in the Rajya Sabha, on 15th September 2020, on the contribution of the tourism sector to India’s economy during the past 5 years, the number of jobs and businesses does the sector support;  and the effect on the pandemic on tourism sector; the Minister of State for Tourism, Prahlad Patel stated that as per estimation in accordance with 3rd TSA for intervening years and subsequent years namely 2014-19 the contribution of tourism to GDP and jobs of the country was as follows: 

Share in GDP ( in %)5.815.
Jobs due to tourism ( in million)69.5672.2675.7180.5477.72

The Minister also mentioned that no formal study has been instituted for assessment of the impact on the Tourism sector. In March 2021, a Press Information Bureau, release stated that the Ministry of Tourism has engaged National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in January, 2021 to conduct a study on “India and the Coronavirus Pandemic: Economic Losses for Households Engaged in Tourism and Policies for Recovery”. According to WTTC, India stood third among 185 countries for travel & tourism’s contribution to GDP in the year 2018. Year 2019 saw 4.8% increase in FEEs reaching up to Rs. 1,94,881 crore and 4.2 crore new jobs opportunities were created in the tourism sector in India, which was 8.1% of the total employment in the country.

Responsible Recovery

Tourism, like all other sectors, needed a serious reboot and vision for responsible recovery.  And so in May 2020, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) had released a set of guidelines to help the tourism sector emerge stronger and more sustainably from COVID-19. 

One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme (2020) – One Planet Vision for a Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector’s Vision document, outlines the vision for tourist sector based principles of sustainability for resilience – from local supply chains, people and social inclusion, public health,  sustainable production and consumption, circular economy & resource efficiency and management and restoration and protection of the environment, climate action, governance and finance  holistically. It highlights the need to incorporate the reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, remanufacture, recycle and repurpose principles. It emphasizes the need for sustainable procurement, mainstreaming food waste and loss and curtailing plastic pollution. 

Tourism after Lockdown

As the tourism industry prepares for recovery – with all due safety procedures including testing and vaccination drives; given that the new bookings  are on the rise, the need for proper waste management services cannot be undermined. The pandemic has underscored the need for sustainable waste management, while protecting the safety of the waste handlers and the  environment. 

A webinar hosted by German Development Cooperation (GIZ India) and Karo Sambhav on the ‘Role of Citizens and Bulk Generators in Waste Management in Tourist Cities,  on World Environment Day 2021 reinforced the need to  prioritise  waste management, as part of mainstreaming sustainability in the tourism industry. The webinar was organized under the development public private partnership (DeveloPPP.de) framework of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation & Development (BMZ) supported project being implemented in Varanasi, Goa & Ghaziabad with the objective of developing and implementing scalable, transparent, financially viable sustainable waste management systems as well as generate awareness amongst 100,000 stakeholders on the importance of recycling plastic and e-waste. 

In the webinar, the Joint Secretary Ministry of Tourism, Mr. R K Verma  highlighted the scope of the new Tourism Policy (draft released in August 2020), that is based on the framework for sustainable and responsible growth of the tourism sector in the country. Within this vision of sustainable and responsible tourism, one of the aims is to position India as a welcoming, safe, clean, hygienic and accessible destination, with a view to enhance the tourist experience and at the same time, minimising the negative impact of tourism on social, environmental and economic aspects and maximizing the positive impact. Mr. Verma said, ‘“The new Tourism Policy is not just an infrastructural issue, but also a behavioral issue and involves the concept of a ‘Responsible Traveler’ which creates the required motivation & awareness that travelers too have important responsibilities in maintaining the ecological balance of tourist destinations.”

Interestingly the  Ministry has piloted with the Swacch Parayatan mobile application in 2016, as a pilot that enabled citizens, and tourists to take photos of garbage and upload on the app, finds a push through the policy document. And in line with the government’s policy on cooperative and competitive federalism, ranking of tourist destinations based on cleanliness, and hygiene has also been proposed. The policy takes a tourist and destination centric approach, with  waste management being a priority area.

People are creatures of habit and routine, and hence the need for reinforcement of a new behaviour can be achieved only with constant senitisiation, if the same system does not exist in the place of origin. Mr. Ashish Tiwari, IFS, Member Secretary Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, highlighted the need for ‘Orientation and Interpretation centers’, in tourist cities, with the hotels and other bulk generators  taking the lead in advocating for responsible behaviour, such as no littering and other do’s and don’ts. 

On the responsibility of bulk generators, Mr. Gaurang Rathi, IAS, Municipal Commissioner Varanasi Nagar Nigam (VNN), in his  address stressed on the importance of in-situ management of waste. 

So what should tourist cities do?

Shalini Khanna Charles

Shalini Khanna Charles, a hospitality professional, entrepreneur and a member of Solid Waste Management Roundtable, who shuttles between Bengaluru and Coorg says, “Waste Management in mountains and hilly areas need a different approach, but first and foremost in managing waste is to move away from landfill  based disposal or waste to energy plant approach, as it  further impacts the fragile ecosystem. Littering is common, because of a number of reasons, including ineffective implementation of the SWM Rules, lack of awareness and inadequate infrastructure.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for managing waste, and needs to be tailored made in consideration with local realities.  Just like sustainability cannot be considered niche in any sector, but needs to be incorporated in the fabric and design, waste management too, cannot be an afterthought but be ingrained in the systems, planning, governance and monitoring with a multisectoral, multi-stakeholder approach to actualising. 

The universal principle however remains applicable in lines with the existing rules – Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 , Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 – amended in 2018, E-Waste Management Rules 2016, Biomedical Waste Management Rules 2016. 

  • Segregation is the key: Minimum three way segregation of waste is mandatory across all generators. Wet or Biodegradable Waste; Dry or Non-biodegradable Waste and the third is Sanitary Waste and Domestic Hazardous Waste. Shalini adds, ‘ The bins in the hotels rooms and bathroom need a rethink and a new strategy, Most hotels provide two dustbins – one in the room and one in the bathroom. The new normal must promote three way segregation with clear instructions displayed pictorially  for use.’
  • Community Participation:  Given the cultural nuances involved and the terrain of the place, the local community must be involved at all levels – decision making,planning, implementation, training, monitoring and evaluation. The local community can also contribute towards collective problem solving, and consensus building, also exerting positive peer support for enabling sustainable waste management. 
  • Enforcement of waste hierarchy at source: Reduction of waste ( Given India’s commitment to phase out single use plastics – promotion of reusables and other alternatives);  Composting ( at  different levels, based on the geographies, and population  – home composting, community composting, lane composting, park composting, in situ management of wet  waste –  composting or biogas;  zone level biogas – across places of worship, heritage spaces  ; Recycling ( All dry waste must be channelised to waste pickers and other informal waste collectors) 
  • Decentralised waste management: Decentralisation of waste – collection, destinations  along with adequate finances and institutional mechanism. The ULBs must invest in local facilities and invest in ward level micro planning, but must be mindful of the topography of the place and the climatic conditions. While the long term plan must be to do away with landfills and dumping ground, and  an emergency disaster waste management plan must also be factored in. 
  • Inclusion of Informal Waste Sector:  Waste management is incomplete without the inclusion of informal waste workers across the informal recycling value chain – waste pickers, itinerant buyers, waste sorters, scrap dealers, aggregators, traders and processors. A comprehensive plan must be developed, for collaboration, recognising the informal waste workers mostly entrepreneurial nature of the profession – with access to finance, technology, skill development in line with the recommendations as Swacch Bhaarat Mission Manual on Municipal Solid Waste Management, by CPHEEO, MoUD, GoI released in June 2016 and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs document titled “Empowering marginalized groups- Convergence between SBM and DAY-NULM. 
  • Communications and Public Awareness : All communication must be focussed and tailor made to cater to different audiences, in a language that is easy to understand. Baseline data on people living, people visiting, services offered, collection schedules, festival and event based waste management guidelines, focussed messaging around dos and don’ts, littering penalties must be addressed. Equally important is to ensure that communications must be designed with an outreach element, to engage the local public, as custodians – this includes all service providers and ancillary support providers in the tourism sector. 
  • Capacity building of all stakeholders: Demystifying the solid waste management rules, understanding roles and responsibilities of generators and service providers, officers and  waste workers.  Guest responsiveness, sensitisation and participation will have to be factored in the capacity building programs, for effective waste management
  • Governance mechanisms and grievance redressal: Activate ward committees and area sabhas for effective governance. Display micro plans at the ward level offices, and byelaws for better understanding of the rules. 

In the COVID world, in order to  build resilient systems, inclusive decentralised waste management strategies must be embraced and acted upon with an urgency.

Myriam Shankar Kraft

As Myriam Shankar, Co-founder, The Anonymous Indian Trust says, ‘Sustainable recovery needs sustainable planning, designs, participation and enforcement, to enable behaviour change. Sustainability cannot be attained, without sustained efforts’. 

Additional Readings

Reference: Atithya: A Journal of Hospitality 6 (1) 2020, 40-46 http://publishingindia.com/atithya/ A Study on Impact of Lockdown on Tourism and Post Lockdown Expectations of Tourists Asmita Patil*, Sandeep Naik** https://hmct.dypvp.edu.in/Documents/research_publications/37.pdf

Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) being implemented in the National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Zoos in India

Draft National Tourism Policy http://hrani.net.in/Files/News/167263796_Draft-NTP-for-Consultation-Au.pdf

Alfthan, B., Semernya, L., Ramola, A., Adler, C., Peñaranda, L.F., Andresen, M., Rucevska, I., Jurek, M., Schoolmeester, T., Baker, E., Hauer, W. & Memon, M., 2016. Waste Management Outlook for Mountain Regions – Sources and Solutions. UNEP, GRID-Arendal and ISWA. Nairobi, Arendal and Vienna. http://www.unep.org, http://www.grida.no, http://www.iswa.org