Shishila Acharya spends her time selflessly working on a mission to create an eco-friendly and sustainable environment for everyone. Fearlessly stating her thoughts and putting it to action, she is an inspiration for today’s youth.
A smart, modern woman who has dedicated herself to putting a ban on plastic bags around the country, Shilshila Acharya is the CEO of The Himalayan Climate Initiative. She remembers her initial days as an environmental studies undergrad. Her journey began when she gave up her MBBS scholarship and opted for the environmental science course. She had begun to love every aspect of what she was pursuing after getting to know more about it. She had discovered her true interest and passion. The oldest among her siblings, Shilshila had an obligation to set an example for her younger siblings and her decision of not going for medical studies worried her parents. However, even with all the criticism she got for her choices, she believed in herself and went for it.
With hopes in her heart, Shilshila went to Norway for higher studies. The experience and education she gained there changed her perception about society and environment management, which gave her a sense of direction and inspiration for all the projects that were to come later in life. Her stay in Norway provided her a broader and comparative outlook towards her own Nepali society. She says “I think Norwegians are very resourceful people, who make the most out of the limited resources they have. Therefore, Nepal being rich in natural vegetation can also do a lot”. With that thought in mind, she decided to not only focus on the environmental aspect but the social aspects as well.
After coming back with the experiences and ideas she had gained, Shilshila conducted a revolutionary campaign ‘No thanks! I carry my own bag’ and ‘Hamri Bahini’ which helped regulate the use of plastic bags and provided employment to rescued women (making cotton bags). The process was very challenging for her as it involved management and resources. She started with the ‘No thanks! I carry my own bag’ campaign, going to different shopping malls and shops around the city to raise awareness among Kathmandu dwellers on the negative impact plastic bags have on the environment. She recalls many people supporting the idea, but only a few were prepared to make changes in their behavior.
Talking about her next project, ‘HamriBahini: The Green Angels’, Acharya took the initiative of providing employment to women rescued by Maiti Nepal, ensuring them a sound working environment and well-paying jobs. Her motive was to prevent Nepali women from having to leave for gulf countries, taking riskier jobs and working as immigrants. Here, she combined social and environmental aspects together by employing the women on producing reusable cotton bags, and selling them to people. Not only did it help empower the women, but also gave them a sense of independence.
The next big step for Acharya’s campaigns was to involve the government to make people see the bigger picture on how unregulated use of plastic bags was impacting the environment. Like any other Nepali citizen, she too had the same perception about the bureaucracy and unwillingness of the government to take quick actions on such matters. However, after sharing her ideas and concerns, the positive response and feedback she received from them altered her way of looking at the governing bodies. “Working with them made me understand how people involved in politics actually care about people and are concerned about the national and global issues,” she added. “Regardless of the technical understanding behind the issue, once they understand the concept, they are excellent when it comes to convincing the general public. They speak the language that is required on the national stage.”
According to research by Shilshila and her team, it was found that there are approximately 1200-1300 people working for the production of plastic bags. But, if we switch to non-plastic bags, there will be employment opportunities for an additional 25,000 people benefiting the environment and the economic aspect of the country, which, are the major concerns at present. “I think it is very practical for people to stop using plastic bags,” says Shilsila, “Surely, it is very convenient but there are a lot of alternatives for plastic bags and one should bring out the change in themselves to see the change around them.”
Shilshila believes that Nepali people have always been environment friendly. Our way of life and the long practiced activities cause no harm to the society. The things we use on a daily basis like kuchho, nanglo, doko, recycling things and also making use of the waste materials as compost manure are very eco-friendly ways of living. It is the western influence and their inspired lifestyle that created these problems, while we are forgetting our own ways. Especially in the urban areas, the problem of using plastic products is huge and it is high time that we, living in this unhealthy environment, bring out the necessary changes.“Nepali people had a frugal and eco-friendly lifestyle which we are forgetting in the modern way of living with western influences. If we just go back to our old ways and do things like people did before to a certain extent, these environmental issues can be kept under control, causing little to no harm to the environment,” she explains.
Even after facing many problems during this process, she kept giving her best. “What made her keep going?” is a question people have asked, to which she says that she believed deep down inside, it was the right thing to do. In this era, the use of plastic bags is a global problem, and all countries are trying to minimize its usage. Many countries are making policies for a healthier environment. So, just because the people here are not as concerned about it or do not take it as a serious problem does not mean that we should ignore it.
For the future, her goal is to implement a ban on plastic bags and polypropylene products in Kathmandu city, especially on the street level, but it is just one of the first things on her list to ban. She is trying to persuade the government to ban any kind of product that can’t be recycled, while providing an alternative to the public. Her experience so far has been empowering, after she accomplished her set goals, like the time she won the law suit or after conducting a successful campaign. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction and boosts my confidence to do more,” she says.
Facing all the struggles and hardships that came her way, Shilshila is now involved with Himalayan Climate Initiative, a non-profit organization “committed to social inclusion and climate resilience”. She’s hopeful for her future plans and project, as she believes that the world is heading in the direction of a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. Her major concern is not only about whether the world will be free of plastic bags or if we will switch to electric cars, but also about the pace at which the change will occur.
Plastic shopping bags, in a manner, have become part of our lifestyle- which in no way is leading to a sustainable environment. With each passing day, the amount of plastic bags being added to people’s consumption is adding pollutants to the environment. To bring change in people’s mindset about the use of massive amounts of plastic bags is definitely a tough job. But, if steps are taken and worked on lessening their use will slowly (but, surely) bring a positive impact in the environment, ultimately benefitting all living beings.