The Beach – a Trash Can
By Risidra Mendis
As night slowly turns to day and people are just waking up to get ready for work or to attend to their daily chores, 54-year-old Shanthi Perera is already at work. Even though Perera has a full time cleaning job, her first job is to clean the Mount Lavinia beach outside her small but comfortable home before she goes to work.
With her ekel broom and mammoty she walks along the beach for about one and a half kilometres collecting plastic, polythene, shopping bags and discarded papers among others, which she separates into various piles. She has no holidays and works every day to keep the beach clean. While many fisher folk see nothing wrong in dumping or burying garbage on the beach, Shanthi strongly opposes this pollution-causing decision taken by many, who ironically depend on the sea to earn a living.
Many fishermen cannot go fishing these days due to the rough seas and have to find other employment to keep their home fires burning. But sadly they seem to have forgotten that the sea that helps them for at least about six months a year is polluted by their own garbage and discarded materials. It all started about three years ago when Samurdhi officials at a meeting suggested that the beach should be cleaned regularly and asked for a volunteer.
While nobody present at the meeting was interested in coming forward to take up this strenuous and difficult task Shanthi agreed to take up the job. “I love the sea and beach and want to make sure it is always clean. Many people have no value for the beach and think it is a dumping ground for garbage. Garbage is dumped, buried and scattered at all times of the day with no care for the environment. So it is very difficult for me to see who is dumping the trash. Garbage that is dumped about a kilometre away gets washed into the sea and brought back to the beach by the tide,” Shanthi explained.
“I start collecting trash from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. for one week. The following week I start at 3.30 p.m. after I come home from work and go on till around 5.30 p.m. I separate the plastic and pile it up in one corner of my garden. I put combustibles into another pile and burn. People dump trash on the beach because they have nowhere to put it. We live across the rail track and the garbage lorry does not come to this area because the road is too narrow and the lorry cannot come down the road,” Shanthi explained.
She added that people living by the beach don’t know what time the lorry comes and there is nowhere to keep the trash until the garbage collectors come. “If the garbage is kept out crows and dogs will pull it and scatter it along the road. People don’t want to keep garbage in their houses for a long time. So the easy way out is to dump it on the beach or to bury it. Some people think when the garbage is buried they have succeeded in disposing their waste. But they don’t realise that when the sea is rough, the tide digs up the sand on the beach and all the buried trash gets washed to the sea,” Shanthi said.
She added that the canal close by to her house is always filled with garbage and when it rains, the canal overflows and all the trash is washed towards her house along the beach.
“The Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council should have some garbage disposal containers put in those areas, so people won’t use the beach as their garbage dumping ground. With the next tide the trash is washed ashore and left to rot. I cannot watch and do nothing when this garbage pollutes our beach. So I take a broom and sweep all the garbage to one place. Earlier I used to collect the plastic, wash it well and sell it,” Shanthi explained.
She said, “I got about Rs 250 for 10 to 12 kilos of plastic, but now a nun comes from an orphanage and takes it, which she sells and the money is used for the orphanage,” Shanthi explained. She hopes that one day the garbage disposal issue will be solved and the once beautiful beach, will no longer smell of garbage but will over again regain its lost glory.
(Pix by Amitha Thennakoon)