850 VOLUNTEERS. 850 GARBAGE BAGS. 850 PAIRS OF GLOVES. ONE DAY.
THE WORLD”S LONGEST SEA BEACH. LETS DO THIS!
2013 is the eighth year that Kewkradong Bangladesh has brought the world’s largest volunteer event for the ocean to the worlds’ longest sea beach. This year, more than one in every thousand volunteers involved in the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) was a Bangladeshi*.
Armed with biodegradable gloves on their hands and carrying biodegradable garbage bags, Bangladeshi volunteers hit the sands of Inani Beach and Cox’s Bazar on September 21 to keep our coast clean and safe.
Mobilising 850 volunteers to give up their weekend to collect debris on a hot summer day was no small challenge, but the dedicated team of volunteers at Kewkradong Bangladesh have been working on it for a while. ICC had its humble beginning in Bangladesh in 2006 with 17 volunteers and has continued to grow every year since then.
Bangladesh’s most famous rubbish picker
Amongst the 850 volunteers this year was the Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Greg Wilcock, and his wife, Wilhelmina van Beers. We took some time out to speak about what motivated them to spend their weekend sorting out trash. Greg said that they both have been involved for many years with similar initiatives in other countries, such as Clean Up Australia, and so were proud to be part of the introduction of a similar event in Bangladesh. Wilhemina said that one of the activities they really enjoy doing is going on long nature hikes, and this would no longer be enjoyable if the environment was littered with trash, so they enjoy being part of doing something about it.
Why is it important?
Cleaning oceans and waterways for one day a year is a small initiative when we consider how much trash is dropped every day in the world. Why bother with the International Coastal Cleanup then? Three reasons: getting hands dirty, being part of a global movement for trash-free seas and collecting the statistics needed to inform global change.
Getting hands dirty: We live in a world where most of us get our trash taken care of. Once it leaves our hands in Bangladesh, it gets collected by rubbish pickers or carried away by a drain into a river, eventually ending up in the sea. We never see where it ends up and that makes it hard for us to be accountable for our actions. The ICC brings debris right back into the hands of volunteers, who potentially could even be the same people who dropped it in the first place. By collecting and sorting through the huge bags of debris collected, volunteers get a hands-on feel for what we are dumping every day, what it looks and smells like and just how much of it there actually is.
Disclaimer: No one actually gets their hands dirty during the clean up because all volunteers wear gloves J
Being part of a global movement for trash-free seas: By lending a hand to pick up trash for a day, you are an important part of a showing your support for a much bigger cause; a global movement towards clear, blue, clean seas. Ocean Conservancy (the organization behind the ICC) is working with everyone from individuals to businesses to change behaviors that cause ocean trash. They are empowering people taking concrete actions every day, bringing useful tips to people on every street corner, supporting good trash policies and bringing people together through initiatives like the Trash Free Seas Alliance.
Collecting the statistics needed to inform global change: The statistics from that single day that debris is collected, sorted and recorded around the world is compiled by Ocean Conservancy to form the basis for the Marine Debris Index. This index counts rubbish item by item, state by state and country by country, to present-overall data on the amount of trash on beaches and along coastal and inland waterways. This data has been collected systematically since 1989 and has informed major marine debris legislation like the US Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act. The index is also regularly cited in a major global environmental reports and plans concerning global pollution. The ICC is not just a day of picking up debris – you are collecting information to inform future global environmental policy and strengthening the scientific research that says ocean trash is a problem we need to do something about.
Most of the volunteers in Bangladesh are young people – university students and recent graduates – like Habiba Islam Shifat. During a break from recording debris statistics, this is what Habiba had to say about the event:
“This is my third year of being a part of the cleanup in Bangladesh. The first year I did not know much about it but just thought it sounded interesting. Through being a part of it every year, I have started understanding about trash and its poisonous effects on the environment and on wildlife. It has made me change the way I think about dropping rubbish, and made me think that being more careful with trash is a very small thing that we can all do for the world.
Dropping trash has been affecting the soil and seas for a long time. It has now become a serious pollution problem that affects the health of people, wildlife and local economies. It is also helping to accelerate the rate of climate change. Coastal cleaning is really important to look after the ocean, not just for one day, but because, over time, it encourages people to change their behaviour so that the trash does not actually get into the sea. After being part of this program I am much more careful not to just drop my trash here and there. I would like to encourage everyone around the world to work together to make the cleanup into a real global movement – we all use the ocean and so many of us rely on it so ocean debris is a problem we must all work together to solve. ”
What did we find?
Together, this year’s volunteers covered a total of 181 square kilometers and collected a total of 419 kilograms of rubbish. What was there? To start with, there were 13,749 cigarette butts/filters, 11,436 plastic food wrappers, 2,956 cups/plates and 2,174 straws. One concerning thing that we did find was plastic advertising banners, which take an incredibly long time to break down compared to the more traditional cloth-based banners. Then there were some more surprising items, such as an old Hindi film record, 28 pairs of shoes and sadly, a dead crab trapped inside a transparent plastic food wrapper.
After looking at this list, we might want to ask ourselves how many of these items we could be dropping, perhaps even without realizing it – and whether we can reduce this amount. In terms of food packaging, one thing we could do is make our own home cooked snacks. To find out how, check out the travel snacks article on page (insert) of this issue.
*Based on 2012 figures, stating 500,000 volunteers participated globally.