As in many Asian countries, rubbish (especially polythene) is causing areas of natural beauty to become unsightly and is killing our land and sea animals. It was because of this observation in Sri Lanka that, in early July, a team of five young female students from Spain, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Germany decided to tackle the issue of plastic waste. They focused on Mount Lavinia Beach, one of the busiest beaches due to its close proximity to Colombo. Here for only a short time, they dedicated their time in Sri Lanka in educating the local community about how to keep the beach clean. The project began with the creation of a 30-minute presentation for the local residents explaining why plastic pollution is such a threat to the environment. Included in the presentation were videos to show the community (including the children) how plastic affects the animals (by swallowing plastic bags or getting straws lodged in their body) and humans (people who eat seafood are consuming plastic secondhand due to the amount of plastic microparticles in seafood). Scientists believe that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Mirror For Hope spoke to one of the team, Tessia Kammerer about their work in Sri Lanka and what their focus was. “Beach clean-ups were just a part of our work - another main focus of our work was on education. We went to several schools to teach them about plastic pollution and the 6 R’s of Sustainability (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Rethink, Refuse, Repair). We explained to the women as well on why you can’t burn plastic (they release toxic chemicals into the air) and why they shouldn’t throw their garbage on the beach. We made an illustrated book which tells a story about plastic for kids and gave it out to orphanages and schools. We bought trash bins for the beach in Mount Lavinia and made sign boards which read “keep our beach clean” in Sinhalese and English, and placed them next to the bins. We also painted a class room and two walls which are visible from the train with encouraging slogans to keep the beach clean”.
The students have already left Sri Lanka but they are hopeful that other communities can follow the example they’ve started in Mount Lavinia. After the initial education and setup of garbage bins, all that is required is for someone in the community to collect the garbage from the trash bins on the beach and take it to the collection point for the government service, to dispose of. We asked Tessia how more locals and expats can get involved in a project at their local coastal area (or any area that has a garbage problem!). “As we’re no longer in Sri Lanka, it’s up to you, the reader. You can always do a clean-up and you don’t need to organize much to do it! All you need is a garbage bag and to identify the correct place to leave the trash. We just started collecting the plastic and trust me people will join you. During every clean-up we had a lot of people (locals and travellers) and kids join us, and they had a lot of fun trying to see who could pick up the most amount of plastic. You just need to show the kids what to collect (plastic) and what they can leave (organic garbage like leaves and coconut shells) and then they’ll run over the beach like tornados!”.
For women as young as this to be tackling such a big problem such as waste management in a country they don’t live in, without receiving any funding is highly commendable and hopefully, the Mount Lavinia beach will stay clean thanks to all their hard work with this project.
(Photos: Manul Rajapakshe)