Condoms. Batteries. Plastic Straws. Nylon ropes. What do all of these have in common? Little, except they all find their way into water bodies, choking them. Around 19,000 volunteers found these and a myriad of other items in just two hours from lakes across seven Indian cities on June 2, when Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), an NGO that is active in 12 Indian states, kicked off its clean-up activities for the year.
Marking the 12th edition of the clean-up, EFI and its volunteers cleared out waste from shorelines and beaches in Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Trivandrum, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Puducherry and Mumbai. Volunteers collected over 15,000 kilograms of non-biodegradable trash between 7 am to 9 am in total.
Speaking to TNM, EFI founder Arun Krishnamurthy said that this activity marked the beginning of their yearly efforts to restore and clean up water bodies using scientific methods. This also marks their commemoration of World Environment Day which falls on June 5. “We will be having clean-up activities every weekend now. They will be with smaller groups of volunteers ranging from 100-300. We are essentially going to be removing the non-biodegradable materials and trash around water bodies,” he said.
Arun also points out that the magnitude of the problem – dumping of waste in and around water bodies – is very serious, and not enough is being done about it. “For example, plastic is banned in Chennai. But we found so many plastic straws along the shoreline there.”
The amount of waste that volunteers collected in just two hours from around water bodies is staggering.
Over 3,900 volunteers collected 6,270 kilograms of trash in Chennai across Ashtalakshmi Temple Beach, Thiruvanmiyur 4th Seaward Road Beach, Kottivakkam Beach, Palavakkam Beach and Neelankarai. In Hyderabad, 3,500 kilograms of trash was collected in total from Kudikunta Lake, Manikonda Lake and Chakalivani Cheuvu Lake. In Bengaluru, 260 volunteers worked together to remove 1.4 tonnes of waste from Devasandra Lake. And from Trivandrum’s Shankumugham Beach, 255 volunteers collected a whopping 900 kilograms of junk that had been dumped.
In 2018, EFI volunteers had segregated the waste they had collected to enable recycling. This time however, Arun says that won’t be possible. “It is impossible to segregate the waste as it is covered in muck. No one will take it for recycling unless it is cleaned. Last year, it took a lot of our resources and three months to ensure that the waste that could be recycled was,” he says.
The trash collected from this year’s clean-up is going to go to the already towering landfills in the cities, with government’s help. “We are at least removing it from the water bodies and confining it to one place,” Arun reasons.
However, he adds that they are working with state governments as well as some academic institutions to set up recycling facilities. “We also tell our volunteers to speak to the locals about these clean-ups to ultimately discourage them from using things like plastic straws and cutlery,” he says.