When Chennai woke up to clean up its sea shore
Chennai: As the sun rose from the depths of the Bay of Bengal over Chennai’s horizon on Sunday, a sea of people—a total of 4,500 volunteers—gathered along a 20-km stretch from Marina beach to Uthandi on the East Coast Road.
Instructions were given, gloves and garbage bags distributed and the cleaning mission began along the coast and lakes in the city littered with glass bottles, polythene bags and plastic boxes, among other recyclable and non-recyclable waste.
It was the seventh edition of the Chennai Coastal Cleanup organized by the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC). “(This year) our main focus was to create awareness on two key areas. First, to sensitize the public on the negative impact of plastic on the environment. Second, to educate people on how to reduce our growing garbage footprint through segregation at home—separating wet waste and dry waste,” said Peter Van Geit, coordinator of the CTC.
On Sunday, more than 5,800 volunteers collected 59 tonnes of garbage in Chennai and 12 other cities. According to CTC, in Chennai alone, 4,500 volunteers from 140 organizations, including corporate entities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals, segregated 38 tonnes and recycled 56%, and moved the rest to the landfill.
An email sent to the volunteers’ inbox a few days ahead of the clean-up activity said, “We are dumping all the garbage in Pallikaranai. Let’s not just clean the garbage from the coastal areas and dump them in beautiful Pallikaranai Marsh Land,” stressing the importance of segregation. The marshland—the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city—also houses one of Chennai Corporation’s largest dump yards.
“Wet kitchen waste can be composted; dry waste can be collected and recycled. This way we can reduce 90% of our garbage generation,” said Van Geit.
Ezhil V.M., a volunteer at the CTC who was involved in the clean-up from the Besant Nagar Broken Bridge area, said: “Volunteers successfully segregated all garbage and collected one lorry full of glass and plastic which will be recycled to reduce impact on our environment.”
The others cities—including Tirunelveli, Trichy, Yelagiri, Puducherry, Hyderabad, Cumbum, Thoothukudi, Coimbatore, Parvathi Valley, Kanyakumari, Cuddalore and Tenkasi—saw around 1,300 volunteers in total gather to clean the beaches, rivers and lakes.
Van Geit, also the founder of CTC which organizes treks, marathons and triathlons, was known only among trekkers, cyclists and other outdoor sports enthusiasts of the city until December last year.
The Belgian, settled in Chennai since 1998, turned a hero for many residents during the Chennai floods.
Apart from the rescue, relief and rehabilitation work, Van Geit and his volunteers stepped into the slush and sewage, cleaned clogged drains and collected filth and garbage. Since December, CTC has initiated more than 50 clean-up drives, removing tonnes of garbage from the Adyar river banks.
“During the December floods, the city got buried under heaps of garbage—water bodies, lakes, rivers, beaches. Everywhere one could see was a large amount of garbage even after the initial rescue and relief efforts. We decided to start cleaning the city with initial focus on the slums near the Adyar river where people lived in miserable conditions post the floods,” said Van Geit.
Over a period of two months, hundreds of volunteers ran awareness initiatives across the city and social media on the need to avoid single-use plastic and reduce the garbage footprint through segregation, recycling and composting.
“If all of us make a conscious effort to segregate at home we can reduce our waste... Let’s make it a daily routine to segregate waste at home and say no to single-use plastic,” said Ezhil.