Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The clean-up act

The very first thing I noticed when I landed in Singapore two decades ago was how impossibly clean the place was. 'Clean' is always the first adjective used to describe our tiny island-nation, closely followed by 'green' and 'safe'.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we take the cleanliness for granted. The 'Low crime doesn't mean no crime' posters serve as a good reminder that we need to do our part to maintain everything that's good about Singapore, such as the cleanliness. And that means cleaning up, in addition to not littering in the first place, of course.

A few weeks ago, I organised a clean-up activity at the East Coast beach near our home. At first, it was supposed to be a weekend family outdoor activity, but then I decided to extend the invitation to the neighbours too.

In Singapore, if you want to do a clean-up activity in a large group, it is recommended to register it with the Public Hygiene Council / National Environment Agency. They have a link where you can register and once you do, they send you a map with areas marked out for your clean-up activity, along with a lot of useful information such as what to pick up and what to leave alone (e.g. I didn't know that we shouldn't pick up washed up algae) as well as a 'how to' video. They even give you the contact of a trash pick-up contractor you can call right after your clean-up act, in case you pick up so much litter that the trash bins abundantly found all over are not enough to hold it.

So the date was set, the WhatsApp group formed (uff necessary evil!), the resources and instructions (and no forwards) shared and finally, it was D-day! Xena was super excited.

Xena showing off her trash pick-up tongs

We started off near Castle Beach. Even though the area looked fine overall, a closer inspection revealed gazillions of cigarette butts and party paraphernalia amongst the grass. Xena lost no time in getting started. 

The first piece of litter makes its debut into the trash bag.

We were four families in total, and it was great to see the littles ones participate with so much enthusiasm. The youngest in our group was only three and boy, did he actively contribute to the clean-up with a pair of tiny tongs in his tiny hands! 

This patch of greenery looks super clean, doesn't it? Well, guess what? We found the most trash here!

An uncountable number of tiny Styrofoam pieces wedged around the plants, hidden so well that you only see them when you step right in and peer closely

There were even fishing lines wound so tightly around the plants, we had to cut them off to release them. 

More scarily, there were rusted fishing hooks! The thought of barefoot kids playing and running around in that area was horrifying. 

We found straws, bottles and plastic pieces in the sand... and some glass pieces too! I was so glad that I had reminded everyone to wear covered shoes. 

Xena takes a break with her stash. 

We even found a post-visarjan Ganesha idol... oh dear Lord!

We cleaned from 5 pm to 7 pm, till it started getting too dark for us to see clearly. 

My artistic silhouette shot of Viv and a neighbour with their trash bags

Our loots at the end of two hours

We were really proud of ourselves, especially for the good amount of time we had spent clearing the litter between the plants. Not only had we cleaned up a part of the beach that the regular cleaners don't, we had also removed a ton of tiny Styrofoam pieces -- probably the most dangerous item for sea animals.

It also turned out very educational for the kids, not to mention getting them out and about doing something useful for the planet. "Mama, the environment is soooo happy with us!" Xena exclaimed. We have decided to do this more regularly, as a family, as well as a community.