The garbage siege of our coasts

A study finds that plastic forms the largest component of marine litter that is polluting the beaches in the country.
Marine litter on one of the Mumbai beaches. (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Marine litter on one of the Mumbai beaches. (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The garbage crisis is not only invading Indian cities, but coasts as well, and the problem is assuming grave proportions. The incident in early June this year that saw nearly 120 tonnes of trash washed ashore on Juhu beach in Mumbai exposed the high levels of pollution that the Indian coasts are subjected to.

Coastal debris include plastic and other non-biodegradable synthetic materials discarded intentionally or unintentionally that enter the marine environment. This waste finds its way to the sea, does not undergo degradation and remains suspended in the water and often gets washed ashore as litter all along the coast. As high as 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter gets dumped into the seas annually!

Coastal litter degrades the quality and health of the oceans by damaging coastal and marine habitats and harming marine life. Instances of plastic being found in the guts of dead fish and other forms of marine life have been reported in the recent years sending a warning signal for the need to urgently protect the oceans from further deterioration in many parts of the world including India.

State of beach debris in the country

A number of sites such as the Nicobar Islands, Karnataka coast, northern Gulf of Mannar, some beaches along the coast of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, urban beaches in Mumbai and the Mangalore coast are known to be affected by marine litter. However, no comprehensive study has been undertaken on the beach debris in the country.

A study titled Prevalence of marine litter along the Indian beaches: A preliminary account on its status and composition published in the journal, Marine Biological Association of India discusses the results of a national survey that assessed the quality and quantity of beach debris found on select beaches along the coasts of India.

Marine litter was categorised into the following groups for the study:

Plastics dominate

The study finds that:

  • Plastic makes up the largest component of marine litter.
  • Goa coast has the highest amount of marine litter followed by Karnataka, while Odisha has the lowest amount of beach litter.

Types of marine litter

  • Goa beaches have the highest amount of litter that includes nylon nets and fishing lines, single-use carry bags and sachets of soft drinks, edible oils, detergents, beverages, cases of cosmetics, toothpaste, PET bottles, ice cream containers, glass bottles as well as electric bulbs mostly of alcoholic beverages and aerated drinks.
  • Synthetic footwear and plasto-foam slippers and materials such as styrofoam, PUF and similar insulators and thermocol floats are found to be highest on the Karnataka beaches.
  • High amounts of electronic wastes such as parts of circuit chips, diodes, computer and mobile hardware parts, CDs, parts of battery operated toys, button cells etc. are found on the Andaman and Andhra Pradesh beaches.
  • Materials such as plastic (covers, carry bags, sachets, PET bottles (beverages, drinking water, medicine etc.), containers of milk, creams, oil, ointments, toothpaste are the highest on the beaches in Maharashtra followed by Andamans.

 

  • Some of the cleanest beaches are found in Kerala followed by Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. The most number of heavily littered beaches are found in Karnataka, Goa, Gujarat, and Andaman Island.

 

The source of litter can be traced to increase in tourist activities on beaches, increase in e-waste due to the increase in mobile phone markets, dumping of waste from the ships near the harbours and lack of awareness among people.

Steps that can be undertaken to prevent littering of coasts

The paper makes some suggestions to change the situation:

  • Colour code the beaches to identify critically polluted beaches and help planners and policymakers to adopt stringent measures to reduce the number of extremely polluted beaches in the country.
  • The origin of all plastic litter being land, control measures need to start from land by tackling the issue at the production as well as disposal level and prevention of litter from entering the sea by installing barriers across sewage ducts, canals opening to large streams, rivers and the sea.
  • Creating awareness through regular coastal cleanups and strict legislation by adopting the following approach:
        • Adopting the reduce (both production and use), reuse and recycle approach at the source.
        • Encouraging the use of eco-friendly materials for frequently consumed items such as stationery, packaging etc.
        • Having a garbage collection and disposal mechanisms in place in all public places.
        • Segregation of waste at the source into biodegradable, metallic and plastic items.
        • Developing domestic waste disposal awareness and discipline among the residents and the community.
        • Establishing incentives for reducing the use of plastics such as carry bags, disposable plates etc.
        • Imposition of plastic tax on major consumer packages.

A copy of the paper can be accessed from here

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