Shey Bakehouse Solves Leh’s Plastic Waste Problem

Rigzin Wangmo was born and raised in Shey, a suburb of Leh City. She completed her studies in Tourism and Hotel Management and worked in various luxury hotels to gain first-hand experience in the hospitality and tourism industry. But, she always felt a void in the quality of work and employment in the sector.

So, she returned to her hometown and decided to follow her passion for baking and confectionery. She decided to open Shey Bakery in 2020 – one of the best bakeries in Ladakh.

Locals appreciate the flavor and delicacy of its bread, cakes and are also appreciated for catering services.

Delicacies and items from Shey Bakery, the only bakery service in Ladakh that uses biodegradable packaging. Photo by the author.

Another thing that stands out about the bakery is that it is the only bakery service in Ladakh that uses biodegradable packaging. “In terms of energy consumption, bakeries are energy efficient and the review of its process is a crucial step towards the green initiative. It is not possible for young startups, but the adoption of environmentally friendly packaging is possible, so I took my first step towards improving sustainability in the Ladakh bakery industry. “, Wangmo said Young Ki Awaaz.

The idea of ​​using eco-friendly packaging was born when it came across biodegradable packaging in hotels. Her curiosity grew and she began to search for alternative packaging. She discovered that compostable packaging materials are made from cornstarch which is easily compostable, although it is a bit more expensive than regular plastic made from styrofoam. “I did not hesitate to spend more money on packaging that preserves nature and to get it from Uttar Pradesh”, adds Rigzin.

The owner of the bakehouse Shey
Wangmo, the founder of Shey bakehouse, one of the best bakeries in Ladakh.

Even though there are many budding entrepreneurs in Ladakh who promote local products in particular, very few are concerned about the environmental harms of using single-use plastic. According to reports, more … than 50,000 plastic bottle waste weighing nearly 16 tonnes is generated per day during the tourist season in Leh.

Wangmo finds it of great concern that the bakery industry, noodle makers, chip makers and the like are only using plastic for packaging. “The mass wholesaler and wholesalers in Ladakh will never respect our environment, we the inhabitants must be responsible for our ecosystem”, she says.

The garbage mountains of Bombgarh and Skarpari record the number of waste the people of Leh producing.

This single-use plastic has a negative impact not only on humans but also on pets. Residents say the increase in cases of dying cows of plastic waste consumption is common in Leh. “Everyone bears the responsibility, whether they are a consumer, a producer, a manufacturer or a decision-maker. Each of us can make a contribution, no contribution is small or large ”, she says.

She has always been passionate about the climate and her great-grandfather is the greatest source of inspiration. He is 93 years old who taught him to live a sustainable lifestyle that respects the environment.

Shey bakehouse saves 4.5 lakhs of single-use plastic each year, but faces major challenges in adopting biodegradable packaging.

Substituting for plastic is a tricky business because the material (cornstarch) is compostable and therefore cannot retain moisture for too long, especially when exposed to heat. In order not to compromise on quality, in summer they use twice as much packaging to maintain the required temperature. “It may take time, but we will never negotiate on the quality ”, said Rigzin.

Despite the challenges, those in positions, especially in government, should encourage responsible entrepreneurs by providing subsidies towards utility costs or the purchase of local resources ”, she says.

Under the leadership of Ama Tsogpa, Leh (Association of Mothers) plastic bags prohibited for a few years. They were replaced with non-woven polypropylene grocery bags.

“But implementing the law or banning certain articles will not work at all – the need to understand the phenomenon of climate change and its impact as it has unfolded in Ladakh is extremely crucial,” Wangmo feels.

A photo of garbage lying near Leh
Solid waste deposited in a large landfill, Bomgard, near the town of Leh. Photo: Athar Parvaiz, Scroll. in

For example, the distinctive habit of not sorting waste is the biggest challenge around the current waste cycle in Ladakh.

Wangmo and like-minded friends started a tree-planting campaign called “Orchid in Desert”. She calls it a small investment in mother nature. So far, they have planted 389 apple and apricot trees in Shey’s Desert. The idea is to spread the greenery in the arid lands of Ladakh, to enable people to reduce their carbon footprint and to promote a sustainable way of life.

“Sustainability has become a chic word in today’s world, the myth that only wealthy people can have sustainable lives. We need to debunk such myths. For me, sustainability is about sourcing local ingredients, empowering local farmers and making sure they don’t lose interest in farming ”, she says.

Being a responsible entrepreneur implies more work with more responsibility, she adds, “I feel the need not only to earn a living, but also to be kind to our environment”, she asserts. The harsh terrain, arid lands and hypoxic atmosphere have made Ladakh one of the most vulnerable areas on the planet to be affected by climate change.

The increase in the purchasing power of residents thanks to the rise of tourists has created better employment opportunities and created more hotel businesses. Along with the booming tourism industry, locals have adapted the so-called modern way of life which radically changed Leh’s natural terrain in a short period of time. Whether it’s an acute water shortage, vehicle pollution or waste management, there is no silver bullet until we change our behavior and choices, Wangmo believes. .