At a time when government departments and entities assigned to manage and assist waste disposal and sanitation work show negligence and apathy, a group of youngsters are engaged in doing their bit to clean up the environment. The team of volunteers, led by Tamil Nadu native Senthil Kumar P, is on a mission to pick up trash, especially plastic wastes and microplastic materials embedded in the soil, along the mountain trail from Coimbatore to Erode.
Kumar, 27, says he sensed the need for urgent measures to stop hurting Mother Earth when he was in Class 9. Now a passionate mountaineer, Kumar has been working on environmental issues in some way or the other for the past several years. But, his dedicated efforts began a couple of years ago. He is, at present, focussing on cleaning up the mountaineering track under the banner - Earth Healers' Community.
With the motto of 'To Clean the Unclean', the yet-to-register group regularly conducts clean-up activities in the mountains in Tamil Nadu. Though they are a nine-member team, more people from outside the group volunteer to participate in the cleaning drive. Kumar runs a start-up of agri-tech drone and an agri-tech consultancy in Bengaluru and takes up the cleaning drill as a by-monthly or bi-weekly programme.
The group goes camping every weekend. Apart from picking up trash along the way, their activities include making children and shopkeepers aware of the need to stop dumping waste in the open and also prompting them to spread the message. The team places garbage bins at places on the mountain trail to ensure that waste is not littered around. The group obtains the forest authority's permission to conduct cleaning activities in reserved forests.
One such trip to Arachallur forest was an eye-opener regarding the severe trash dumping along the trail and the extent of plastic contamination of the soil. "The situation is grim. The presence of microplastics is a huge threat. Removing microplastics is our main concern. Microplastics can move from the environment to living organisms including mammals. Recently, research found the presence of microplastics in human breast milk and in human placenta," says Kumar. "It's alarming."
Trash littering is high during pilgrim season and hence briefing temple priests to spread the message to keep the tracks clean has been one of the top priorities of the Earth Healers Community. "For example, we contact the priests of the temples in Palamadai village and Sankagiri regularly to inform them about the need to avoid littering," says Kumar, who is planning more such campaigns in the days to come. "We are also planning to involve school children in future campaigns," he adds, "At some places, locals join or take up the clean-up drive after we start the activity."
The group sometimes seeks the support of panchayat heads and communities to run such campaigns. Though Earth Healers Community has been engaged in hygiene activities for some years, it began the campaign in an organised fashion a year ago. "Now people in Erode are aware of our programme and support us whenever the campaign is underway," Kumar says. The team has kept new garbage bins apart from those of the local bodies in Erode municipality.
As to why the group has not been registered as an NGO or some other organisation, Kumar says, "We haven't thought of it yet, as currently we are focussing on the clean-up mission alone. We didn't feel the need, actually. Will do so once the need is felt."
For a group whose mission is more important than registration, cleaning up a bit of earth's space is crucial, even as it knows terms like climate emergency, global warming, sea level rise and so on are going to make no much difference anywhere on the fast spinning globe until the real heat is felt.