According to clean-up groups, waste disposal habits in the city have not changed despite eight months of lockdown, and that there is a rise of biomedical waste on the beaches.
“More people have started visiting the beaches. This has resulted in the increase of waste accumulation in our fragile coastal areas, which are meant to serve as biological hotspots and nesting sites for the endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtle,” said Shri Krishna, Admin Associate with Environmental Foundation of India, which conducts beach clean-ups every Saturday. Since November, the group has cleared out approximately three tonnes of harmful non-biodegradable waste along Chennai’s coastlines.
Once beaches reopened, the quantity of waste found along the shores has returned to pre-lockdown levels, said Pradeep Mariappan, who conducted four community-run beach clean-ups in November and December of 2020. “I have been involved in beach clean-ups since 2016, and waste levels have returned to pre-shutdown levels. There was never any mitigation. One noteworthy observation is that even if the surface of the sand looks clean, there is lots of plastic under the surface that gets buried by the wind. We have to be careful of small sachets that need human intervention to be removed from coastlines,” said Mariappan.
Aside from increasing plastic waste along the beach, there has also been a notable increase in biodegradable waste, said a few organisations. “We did notice a few changes in the behaviour of the public but not to the level that is required. There has been a steady rise in the amount of biomedical waste found on the beaches, from masks to face-shields,” said Krishna.
Citing disappointment, Mariappan stresses the importance of companies in reducing plastic waste by changing packaging methods. Local efforts can only solve so many problems, he explained, and private organisations need to be held accountable as well.