On a late Sunday morning, I was on my way to a workshop. It was a good start to a Sunday; a hearty breakfast and the grey skies promised nice weather. I got into a cab and was enjoying the wind in my hair, it was high tide and the sea was lapping up against the walls. Things were going well until I realized that with each wave the sea regurgitated a mound of trash. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first and only time that waste has re-turned from the sea.

Mumbai’s most popular beaches are also the most polluted beaches in the world. According to ReefWatch Marine Conservation, a Mumbai based organization, city beaches are saturated with plastic bags, food wrappers, discarded tyres, styrofoam, PET bottles, glass shards, batteries, paper, cardboard, cement, fishing nets, automobile scraps and the list goes on. Further, they warn that waste would land up in our stomachs in the future. As per their findings, the bottom of the food chain is most affected in the ocean These are the primary producers, known as plankton, who end up ingesting plastic of about 5-10 microns, confusing it for food. These plankton are then consumed by larger fish which in turn is consumed by human beings.

Next time when you decide to consume sea food, you might just be eating microplastics along with your food.

How plastic ends up in our food

How does waste land up in the sea?

Littering on roads and beaches as well as open garbage dumps across the city open up into the sea. Moreover, unscientific landfills leach out pollutants and small plastics into water sources. Besides, monsoon showers carry waste from dumps to creeks, drains and eventually the sea.  The next time you think that your community is clean, think again. Most of us feel satisfied by keeping the fours walls of our homes and communities clean. While think of trash strewn on roads as somebody else’s business or the responsibility of  BMC? Might be cliché to say, but most Indian citizens marvel at the level of cleanliness abroad and follow rules there while in our own country we don’t even know where our waste ends up?

A gyre (pronounced jaier) is a circular ocean current like a slow whirlpool that attracts trash from the shores to the center of the ocean. Indian Ocean gyre is part of the 5 big gyres spread across the globe and is known for having the highest plastic content, otherwise described as ‘a plastic soup’.  There is so much trash that search parties have difficulty in identifying debris from the missing Malaysian flight 370. Moreover, the Guardian avers that in the next 10 years Mumbai is going to be one the biggest plastic garbage patches in the world.

Great Pacific Garbage Batch showing the five gyres. Copyright: h2odistributors.com

On a brighter note, Afroz Shah, lawyer and environmentalist heads an 85-week beach cleanup for Versova. Transforming the beach by removing 5.3 million kgs of trash from its shores. It is indeed a remarkable feat, but is this a sustainable solution? What would happen to the tons of waste collected? Will it be dumped in landfills? Or sent for recycling? What we should realize is the enormity of the waste crisis. We are reeling under the pressure of plastics produced over 70 years ago as it floats in a patch of water somewhere far away from its source of generation. Is it fair to use a product once which would take thousands of years to degrade? And even then, never fully disappears. It is about we consider a hard introspection into our lifestyles, choices we make and how they interfere with nature, land and oceans. Meanwhile, Indian Ocean gyre is continually churning garbage between oceans and coasts.

Coming back to my morning workshop, I was on my way to teach residents of an affluent society to segregate waste at home. I work with Green Communities Foundation, a non-profit that supports and handholds residences in becoming Waste Free. GCF conducts site surveys, discussions with the management committee, a waste audit, segregation workshops and recommends the best solution for the client. GCF provides handholding until the society is self-sustainable in managing its waste. In other words, GCF offers an end-to-end holistic package for waste management. Hoping to do our bit and slow down the massive waste problem in India.




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