I have a disorder. Whenever I see anyone in a public place about to finish a bottle of juice, cola or water, all my attention gets focused on the person with the bottle. I think at times, I lose track of all other things. This bad habit of mine is the reason why I cannot enjoy Mumbai’s beach lines like Marine Drive or Juhu, because my eyes will wander towards people who are likely to litter the beach with plastic bottles (or any other trash).
I was in Kerala in the December of 2016, bird-watching with 2 friends at Salim Ali bird sanctuary at Thatekkad. The sanctuary is quite small, and you can (slow) walk all the trails within the sanctuary in a span of 4-5 hours. There were about 30 tourists we saw inside the park. Small family groups walked the trails and clicked photographs of themselves with the background of trees while couples chose to walk in more secluded areas of the trails, where they could get some privacy.
My friends and I were just finishing of the last leg of our trail and we took a right turn to head back to the main entrance. The trail left was about less than 1 km. Some 100 meters ahead of us, was a couple who were walking slowly hand in hand. The entire scene was looking so picturesque… until I saw an almost empty bottle of water in the boy’s hand. My disorder then struck me! I no longer seemed to be looking at birds and my eyes were fixated on that bottle of water. Every now and then, my friends used to exclaim …they spotted something. I would look at it for a couple of seconds [Ah… have seen this bird] and then eyes back to the bottle.
Much to my surprise, the boy held on to the empty bottle for a long time, and did not throw it away. I was beginning to see a ray of hope and I was disappointed with myself as I did not give them a chance. I now seemed to believe that he would not throw it.
I shifted my focus to birding for a minute, and then back to the couple. Then I saw- No bottle!! What?! How could I miss that? The trail up ahead became a gentle slope and there were some blind spots up ahead. I remembered the girl’s handbag was too small to keep the bottle. I started scanning the trail we were walking on, since we had reached the stretch where the “littering” was committed. If he had tossed the bottle somewhere nearby, I should be able to see it. I meticulously scanned 25 feet on either side of the trail to see if the bottle had been tossed anywhere far from the main trail. The good thing about this sanctuary is that it is well maintained and there is very little trash on the trail; so, litter stood out.
We reached a turning where a gentle upward slope was there; on either side there was a gutter like pit with lots of leaves and there lay one empty water bottle, clean, with just a few drops of water left. I say clean because had the bottle been lying there for a long time, dust and mud would have accumulated on the sides. This bottle was just thrown, you could tell. Moreover, I checked my previous photographs to identify the “brand” of this packaged water bottle. The one I found on the ground, was the same brand. I was now sure that they were the culprits. You might think it’s crazy that I am obsessed with finding this piece of “evidence”, but the thought of blaming someone without evidence would disturb me much more, I thought.
I got down and picked up the bottle. No way was I going to see that plastic bottle lie there in that beautiful forest. I took out a cloth bag from my back-pack, and I put the bottle in it. As we were nearing the entrance, you could see more trash littered here (not by them, but generally), so I kept picking the littered bottles and put them in the bag. Just ahead of us, the couple had stopped walking and were resting on a rock. We passed them and walked ahead of them when I purposefully removed “their” bottle from my bag and gestured to my friends about “see how people throw bottles here”. The couple looked confused at first and then abashed, for they understood that we had been picking up trash on the trail and I had found their bottle too. Here too, I found myself avoiding direct confrontation for I did not see the act of littering. I thought to myself: there could still be a remote possibility that they did not litter. Sigh! In the past, I have had not-so-pleasant experiences with direct confrontation. So I also tend to avoid it.
We reached the entrance soon and I transferred the trash to the bin. The couple had not moved from their resting spot. I saw them still looking at us. Perhaps this episode may prevent them from doing this again! I can only hope for that. In the meantime, I need to deal with this disorder of mine!
At the end, I will leave you with this picture:
For all those who try to figure out how to confront someone when they litter, you may find this useful (or not!): “The art of tackling littering“.
To understand why we litter in the first place, here is a quick read:
Madan, S. (2018). Swachh Bharat and the power of norms. Live Mint, 9 Jan 2018.
My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.