It is impossible to think about Chennai without thinking about its beautiful beaches. These days however,
it is impossible to think about Chennai’s beaches without thinking about how dirty they are.
So, why are our beaches so dirty?
Most people would say it’s because our government isn't doing its job; in providing dustbins or removing
trash from the beach. Some would say its because of our ‘Indian mentality’ and lack of civic sense,
which has resulted in litter all over the beach. However, we often neglect to mention how our poor waste management practices directly affect our beach environment. We fail to see our part in creating this problem- as consumers and thus creators of ‘waste’ through our lifestyle choices. We also overlook the
need to discuss the regulation of materials that are used to package the products we consume. In fact,
when most citizens think of how they can improve Chennai’s waste management or raise awareness, it is
usually framed through a ‘cleanup’ ethic that only aims to remove trash and litter from the beach ecosystem.
Is this enough?
No. We believe it’s not. Its not about getting the government to buy more sand sieve machines or
getting the ‘youth’ together for a cleanup. We know. We have organized too many cleanups to see the
same amount of trash come back in a couple of months. In fact, when we compared the amount of trash
and the materials it was made of on Elliots beach after a year of cleanup drives (organized by us and
many others) we found no signicant reduction (Reclaim Our Beaches 2011). Moreover, beach cleanups
can never be long term solutions because by themselves they are supercial interventions that only
move trash from one place to another (from the beach to Pallikaranai or Kodungaiyur, Chennai’s primary
dump-yards) contributing ironically to the spatial injustice of our city by delivering more trash to the
residents in these areas.
Rather than focusing on making our beach ecosystem clean, we need to look at solutions that help make
it healthy. We need to expand our sight to make sure that these solutions are ecologically sustainable
and socially and spatially equitable.
This is the rst of a series of reports we have planned for the ROB ‘Exposing Waste Campaign,’ which
focuses on documenting the ugly truths about waste, and the politics embedded within it.