Plastic bags strewn across the sands, half-eaten ice cream sticks dug into sand castles – seem like a familiar if unwanted sight? But come June 19, and Chennai’s beaches might not look this way anymore, as the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) is hosting the Chennai Coastal Cleanup, which they hope will metamorphose into “South India’s biggest clean up drive”.
In its seventh edition this year, the Chennai Coastal Cleanup was initiated by Peter Van Giet to create a ‘strong environment about the negative effects of plastics on the oceans.’
“We wanted to sensitise people on the use of plastic, simultaneously educating them to manage their own garbage. Ultimately, it’s an effort to reduce whatever negative impact created on the environment,” says Peter. The Chennai Coastal Cleanup holds the Limca Record for maximum garbage collection, with 5584 volunteers collecting 36.7 tonnes garbage along a stretch from Marina to Kovalam in 2013.
Beach cleanups in Chennai have always been a one-day affair. However, this Chennai Coastal Cleanup promises to be more than that. “We have had pre-event awareness campaigns for over two months now,” says Nambi, a volunteer with CTC.
From cleanup treks to storytelling sessions for children, the CTC has conducted a variety of activities to spread awareness about the Chennai Coastal Cleanup. “We collaborated with various running groups across the city, such as the Chennai Runners and held awareness runs in various chapters like T Nagar and Kilpauk, educating the residents about the drive and other related issues,” says Dr Roopa, another volunteer.
Having cleaned beaches for over seven years under the Chennai Coastal Cleanup banner, the CTC realized that there has been no change in the garbage situation in the city. “If anything, it has only grown. Today, over 6,000 tonnes of garbage is collected in the Perungudi dumpyard alone,” says Dr Roopa. Taking this appalling number into account, the group launched the #garbageoverload campaign two months ago.
CTC has also been spearheading a series of campaigns across schools, raising the ethics of garbage segregation in classrooms, and trying to build awareness among children about the necessity of reducing through segregation and home composting practices.
One of the many campaign ideas from the group has been the No Plastic challenge. Along the lines of the famous Ice Bucket challenge, the campaign is a fun way to create awareness on social media about the ill-effects of plastic. “Many daily utilities, such as our mobile phones and other electronic items have plastic in them, which can be avoided. The focus of this challenge is to try and use social media to create awareness and motivate people to stop using plastic,” explains Peter.
The challenge requires the nominated person to say no to plastic, particularly single-use plastic items by posting selfies while using reusable, non-plastic items for five consecutive days. On the fifth day, CTC recognizes them as champions, allowing them to nominate five of their friends to take up the challenge. “Over 350 volunteers have taken this challenge,” says Dr Roopa.
Running parallel to the Chennai Coastal Cleanup, CTC is also organising ‘Indian Clean Sweep’ across 16 other cities in the country, including Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Puducherry and the Himalayas. “Environment organizations will also be holding cleanups in their respective cities, on June 19, hence making it a countrywide phenomenon,” explains Nambi.
Meanwhile, the Chennai Coastal Cleanup will clean the 20-km coastal line stretching from Marina to Panaiyur in the outskirts of Chennai. “We have also tied up with the Environmental Foundation of India to clean the lakes in Chennai,” says Dr Roopa.
With 9 more days to go for D-day, or ‘C-day’ as they call it, the event has already drawn over 4000 registrations. And while the number might already seem a lot, the CTC is expecting the count to hit the 10,000 mark soon. “We are all set to gather over 50 tonnes of garbage across a 20 km stretch of beaches with 10,000+ volunteers,” says Dr Roopa. “It is definitely going to be a drive of massive proportions.”