Rahul Maharana, a security guard working with a private company in Odisha, was in Class 12 when he first learned about climate change.
“In 2018, an awareness programme at my college helped me understand the devastating effects of mismanagement of plastic pollution on the planet. I was shocked and disheartened by the facts,” he tells The Better India.
The 22-year-old is a native of Khurda village, and says that the event he attended was focussed on experts creating awareness and sharing how they contributed to reducing the impact of climate change.
“I wondered, ‘Why should the experts do it alone?’. Everyone wants a better environment for the survival of the species, and there should be an equal contribution from all. I decided to do my bit,” he says.
On a solo mission
Rahul decided to dive into the cause and began collecting waste from places, such as the nesting sites of Olive Ridley turtles in Rushikulya, Pir Jahania beach, and others. “I collected 500 bags of waste from these areas,” he says. “But I realised that cleaning in multiple areas will make it difficult to measure the impact and change accurately. I needed to focus on a single location.”
He decided to concentrate his cleaning activity on Astaranga beach. which also has the only mangrove plantation in Puri district. Today, he has single-handedly retrieved over a tonne of plastic waste.
Rahul says, “I identified the deteriorating mangrove cover and polluted area of Devi estuary near Astaranga beach. I did not wish to compel anyone to join my cause and decided to launch a clean-up drive all by myself,” he says.
Since January 2022, he has spent every Sunday morning marching towards a solo mission. “I carry a jute sack and collect all types of rubbish littered in the area. I cover the beach and a mangrove plantation in the vicinity,” he says.
Rahul says most of the waste he collects includes plastic products, bottles, clothes and other solid items. “The waste is often hidden or buried under mud or sand. The waves deposit some of the rubbish from the sea. It is difficult to handle the polluted and smelly waste. But all of it has to be cleared. At times I sleep on the beach to complete cleaning work,” he adds.
The environment lover says many locals litter the area by disposing of the waste irresponsibly. “It is because of a lack of awareness among citizens. Mangroves are crucial to guard the land and coastal population from the effects of cyclones. Such waste, especially plastic, chokes the mangroves and affects their growth. Puri has only 1.13 sq km of mangrove and is reducing further. A report by Forest Survey of India (FSI) shows the cover has shrunk by 0.2 per cent in the past two years,” he says.
Rahul says he has collected 1 tonne of waste so far, and is making arrangements to take it to the waste processing facility at Konark. He plans to conduct campaigns to increase awareness and hopes more people care for the environment.
Edited by Divya Sethu