At Chennai Coastal Cleanups, everyone gets a piece of the cake

A complacent attitude is a bigger evil than big corporations.
At Chennai Coastal Cleanups, everyone gets a piece of the cake
At Chennai Coastal Cleanups, everyone gets a piece of the cake

In Peter Van Geit’s world of cleanups, it’s not just about cleanups. It’s about building community and cutting out the jargon to embrace individuals who want to give a little to the environment. And celebration. 

At a briefing before the Chennai Trekking Club’s massive coastal cleanup in 12 zones across the city over a month, the lecture is interrupted by a team member’s birthday celebration. Before we know it, pieces of the cake are flying all around, and Geit ensures everyone gets a little. 

18 years of the Belgian living amongst Chennai’s beach and river filth taught him enough about how complacent attitudes are a bigger evil than big corporations. 

Under a thatched roof on the top of an office in Thiruvanmiyur, it’s late and yawns are contagious among the 300 strong group that have been assigned roles. “People always tell us they have no time. They have jobs, families. But when there’s a cake, everyone’s interested,’ says Shiva, a senior member of CTC who’s tried to devise ways to get people to care more about cleaning up. 

“One boy who turned up for a coastal cleanup, went back home and proudly declared to his mother that he’d helped clean up the Marina. His mother laughed and said if only he cleaned up after himself at home this happily,” recounts Roopa Chozhan, another senior member who’s worked with mobilizing youth for large scale cleanups. 

The tough spots, according to Van Geit, are the Marina and the Adyar River. Besant Nagar beach is notorious for dirty weekdays and the dirtiest Sundays. “While frequencies of garbage accumulation vary in some areas, in Besant Nagar it’s almost weekly. It’s our toughest yet.” 

CTC also engages with fishermen and villagers in Kuppams whom they have traditionally found to be more sensitive to the environment “We held out a little tortoise in front of a group of children and asked them to identify the animal. One boy called it garbage, after which all the children patiently sat him down and explained to him,” said Roopa. “The idea of what is garbage and what is not, what is sanitation and what is not – needs to change. And the cleanups are helping. 

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