An Update from India
By Global Program Coordinator Blake Hight.
The Global Programs team in India have been busy familiarising themselves with the local environment and forging relationships in the communities of Vizhinjam and Kovalam. Our introduction to the area has given us a better understanding of the environmental problems facing the marine environment here, whilst also acquainting us with the people and organisations who envisage a harmonious relationship with the sea. While the sheer scope of the waste problem can be overwhelming, there is a huge amount of support for tackling it and providing long-term solutions.
This awareness and desire for change gives us great hope that our goals can be achieved. Friends of Marine Life and The Green Army are two organisations here who share the same vision as we do and they regularly mobilize significant volunteer numbers to assist with their programs. In the past month, we have worked alongside these groups to help complete two brand audits and a beach clean up. Brand audits are a hot undertaking in India at the moment due to recent government regulations stating that polluting companies must take responsibility for their contribution to the waste situation, known as ‘extended producer responsibility’. Collecting data on the branding distribution of waste on the beaches is now a powerful tool to bring about government interventions that force companies that rely heavily on single-use, disposable plastics to find alternatives. Assisting these groups also helps us to grow our network and gain exposure here, which will greatly assist our work post-monsoon.
The acceptance and support of various community groups is a vital component of long-term success here, so a significant portion of our time when we first arrived in India was dedicated to meeting with the heads of these groups and filling them in on our thought process and vision for the future. The fishermen’s council holds substantial influence in the area of Vizhinjam, where the first phase of our project will take place, so gaining their support was a crucial step towards implementation. We learned that the fishermen are sick of the pollution in the area, as it affects their health, as well as the health of their industry. They explained that there is simply not enough being done through governance to enable waste disposal and management in the area. We were assured that, should we be able to provide a solution to this issue, they will be a voice of support for our cause in the community. Religious groups here also hold substantial sway in the community, and their stance on an issue can mean the difference between community acceptance and rejection. We arranged to meet with heads of the Vizhinjam Harbor Christian group and they, too, were supportive of our concept. They went so far as to create a working group within their ranks to assist us with our work and they meet monthly with us to discuss ideas, progress and give us their feedback.
Local municipality and government officials have also been consulted in order to gain approval for our project, they have also given their full support. We were offered a small storage space in Vizhinjam Harbor, which we intend to use as a storage and segregation facility for our staff, before the waste is then transported to processing facilities that are further away. We feel that we have arrived in India at a pivotal time. A time when public awareness of plastic waste is reaching a critical mass and community leaders are truly starting to look for solutions. Although it is still very early days, and there is a lot of work yet ahead, we feel that with time, focus and dedication, we can play a vital role in shifting the community towards an ocean less plastic and addressing some of the other pressing issues here, which are destroying marine ecosystems. There is an ideological shift happening all over the world, and we are so excited to be a part of it in one of the world’s most polluted countries. If positive change is possible here, it is possible everywhere!