“Stepping forward – into the trash,” by Shobana Kesava.

“Stepping forward – into the trash,” by Shobana Kesava. The Straits Times Blogs, 20 Sep 2007.Shobana Kesava tells of those who pick up trash voluntarily and not on a CWO.

OVER 2,500 people descending on Singapore shores in one day, not to enjoy the sun, sand and sea but to pull out other people’s rubbish sounds like a bad release of piled-up littering corrective work orders.

But no one was being forced to do it on Sep 20 this year.

And, the thousands doing the collecting weren’t just collecting rubbish but data which will be sent this week to the Washington-based Ocean Conservancy which organises the annual international coastal clean-up.

The Non-Governmental Organisation wants to understand what makes up the world’s shoreline litter to help change behaviours.

Singapore residents have been at it the last 17 years: Collecting other people’s trash as a voluntary activity. They feel part of a good cause – understanding what exactly constitutes Singapore’s trash on the shores.

What a dedicated bunch.

They get knee-deep in mangroves, pull out an old drink can, note it on a datasheet as a food container and carry it back to civilisation in full trash bags.

The input goes online to the International Coastal Clean-up Singapore.

One group quite happy to get dirty in the name of cleaning up is The Raffles Museum ToddyCats. The group of 10 volunteers with the National University of Singapore all have full time jobs but still make time for their mission of coordinating the annual trash assessment.

Their website is a passive advertisement for those willing to organise themselves into groups and take part on Sep 20 every year.

Students, corporate citizens, civil servants and altruistic adults: Step forward.

Their motives for taking part may be varied but their committment to cleaning up is the same.

Some volunteers want to chalk up points for their community involvement programmes in school. Others hope to get the next generation of Singaporeans to avoid becoming another trash-producing generation. These days, some even say they want to offset their company’s carbon footprint.

This week, the results of their efforts will join the global data from other clean-ups around the world.

It seems wherever you are in the world rubbish is a pretty universal object.
Styrofoam, (really Dow Chemical’s trademarked name for polystyrene), plastic bags and cigarette butts always turn up. So do heavy items like truck tyres which are hauled up, rolled out one at a time and stacked up for disposal company Sembenviro to carry away.

Even dumped refrigerators and toilet cisterns possibly washed up from foreign shores and ships are carted out of mangroves.

Trash collected here and elsewhere is on the rise with eight pieces of trash picked up per metre of shoreline, compared to just three pieces, five years ago.

Blame it on enduring consumerism and poor disposal habits, but volunteers are undeterred and hope to make even the most incorrigible get the message:

– Garbage destroys wildlife which share the planet with us.

– It entangles or suffocates marine life. It fills their gut making them die a slow death from malnutrition.

And, if altruism doesn’t work there are other resons: It damages ecosystsems that provide food resources, traps fresh rainwater great for dengue-breeding and destroys our tranquil escape to sun, sand and sparkling sea.

For many who take on the task, it’s done in the hope that education and not punishments like corrective work orders will encourage other Singaporeans to quit littering.

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