ROB's “Waste Audit” is an attempt to create awareness about reducing the use of plastic and adopting proper waste management methods.
Reclaim Our Beaches (ROB), the students' initiative to preserve Chennai's beaches, has gone beyond being a “beach clean-up group” by conducting a “waste audit” along the Broken Bridge area near the Elliot's Beach. After conducting clean-ups every Sunday, members of ROB soon realised that no matter how much they clean up, garbage was dumped again.
The purpose is first to make people realise that putting a used plastic cover or bag in the dustbin doesn't complete their responsibility in handling waste. As consumers it is highly essential to understand what happens to the things that we throw away.
Along the process, we realise our responsibility as consumers, to make sure that we demand and buy products that have better recycling options. If we look more carefully, we can see that some products need not have been sold in plastic packets at all.
Recent studies have shown that plastic is not a non-reactive compound and can affect the content inside it, so it's may not be the most hygienic way either. A good example would be ketchup sachets. Say, a food outlet sells about 100 meals a day and it gives one sachet of ketchup with each meal. That's a 300 sachets a month from one outlet alone. Instead of giving away 100 sachets, keeping a well maintained bottle from which everyone can serve themselves would save that many plastic sachets.
The company's corporate social responsibility is to ensure that their work is not over when the product is sold but to ensure that their product or its packaging material is traced back for reuse or to find alternative modes of packing so that they don't get dumped elsewhere.
ROB members are also collecting interesting objects from the dumps and are creating what is called a “Trash Museum”, a mobile museum of interesting things that will help to create awareness among youngsters. A recent addition was a toy given away with a food outlet's meal, which was manufactured much before the brand even came to India.
The core of the problem highlights two issues. Firstly, our ignorance. The corporates are under no pressure whatsoever from the consumers regarding the waste generated from their products and how it should be dealt with. Most of us have no idea about what happens to the waste after we dump it. Second, most of us do not realise the difference between what we need and what we want. It is highly critical that we think about whether we really need something before we buy it. That by itself can reduce the amount of waste generated.
The ROB clean-ups are open to anyone who wants to join in and help understand the crisis we now face.
To understand how the garbage ends up along the beach, ROB members divided the Broken Bridge area into 12 zones. For the past three months, they documented the types of waste found there, categorised them and, in the end, found the product that gets dumped the most. Once a product is chosen, the members plan on tracking it right to its core, find data like who buys these products, how it is processed and how it ends up in a remote place like the Broken Bridge?
Siva. B is an engineering graduate and a freelance writer.