- Goa’s position as a year-long tourism hotspot has uncorked a notoriously jagged problem: alcohol bottles, carelessly tossed or dangerously smashed on beaches, highways and tourist spots.
- As the number of domestic visitors has gone up almost four times in a decade (2 million in 2008 to 7 million in 2018), the public exchequer is spending huge amounts cleaning up after them.
- The problem has angered the community-minded local residents and is harming the tourism industry, as discerning high spenders migrate away to cleaner beach resort locations.
Goa, famous for its beaches, has always been a tourism hotspot. The state has a steady footfall of tourists throughout the year. The image of Goa, in popular media, as an escape from the mundane life has accelerated tourism and has boosted the state economy. With the constant onslaught of tourists, what also remains constant is the carelessly thrown waste, including alcohol bottles, on the once-pristine beaches.
A 2017 study by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute surveyed 254 beaches on India’s coastline (including the peninsula and the islands) and found that Goa’s beaches had the highest quantity of litter. Glass waste (bottles, bulbs) constituted 33 percent, or one-third, of Goa’s beach litter, second only to nylon fishing net/line debris waste, which constituted 36 percent of beach litter by weight.
Read more: Biodiversity threats from ghost fishing gear in Ganges river system
Alcohol bottles, carelessly tossed or dangerously smashed on beaches, highways and tourist spots are a common sight in Goa. Shards of glass litter the beaches making it unsafe for people to walk or swim. Alcohol beverage brands initially had a take-back system, where the customer gives back the empty bottle to the vendor, but this system is now defunct.
Now, the onus lies on the public exchequer and the Goa Waste Management Corporation (GWMC) to clean up the litter left by visitors.
“On weekends, some 25,000-30,000 drive-in tourists visit the 9 km Baga-Sinquerim stretch. They are mostly all male, and they all want to drink on the beach. Some patronise the 150 licensed beach shacks. Others head to any number of liquor marts leading to the beach,” says restaurateur Neville Proenca. “The stores are supposed to have a notice saying public drinking is barred. But do they? Tourists drink outside wholesale shops that provide them with bottle openers and plastic glasses when their license bars them from doing so. Budget tourists take the bottles on the beach; some break them after they are high and walk away to save the cost of drinking at a beach shack. Walking barefoot on the sand or swimming barefoot is now unsafe. How can tourism prosper in this environment?” asks Proenca who also runs beach and civic cleaning missions on his own accord. Consequently, high spending tourists skip Goa, head to the Maldives or Sri Lanka, leaving underutilised hotel room inventories here, he adds.
Tourism stakeholders lobbied for a law that in 2019 imposed a Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 10,000 fine for individuals and groups drinking in public places, only to find implementation scuttled. “All the laws are in place. It’s the people who are not in place. The IRB (Indian Reserve Battalion) is supposed to implement the law. If they did, they would need buses to take offenders. If they apprehend even ten offending groups, the exchequer will get Rs. 1 lakh (Rs. 100,000). Instead, sub-inspectors are transferred overnight. Challan books are hardly ever on-site. The liquor lobby is very strong, you see,” complains another restaurateur, wishing to remain anonymous.
For three days, around new year’s eve in 2020, there appeared to be a de facto carte blanche, and several beaches descended into chaos, with bottle debris strewn on the sands the morning after. As images were widely circulated on social media, evoking dismay, the provisions of the 2019 law were regurgitated in the media. However, no records of fines collected (if they were) were made public, and matters went back to ‘guzzle-litter-repeat,’ stakeholders complained.
Domestic visitor avalanche unsustainable
Pre-2005, a seasonal international tourism cycle, stakeholders say, left a lighter, sustainable footprint, stayed within beach carrying capacity and at least afforded the environment a six-month off-season recovery period.
Tourism inflow in recent years is around five times Goa’s domestic population of 1.5 million (15.4 lakhs). In 2018, 0.8 million (80 lakh) tourists with 0.7 million domestic and 930,000 foreign visited Goa.
Both the floating and resident populations generate some 527 tonnes of waste daily, as per field data verified by the Goa State Pollution Control Board.
It took court interventions before the administration put systems in place under the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. These measures somewhat tackled plastic, the major pollutant.
But the beer/alcohol import/production industry, its 2725 over-the-counter vendors, and a mounting avalanche of litterbug tourist tipplers, continue to leave a scabrous trail. Almost all (99 percent) of glass debris on beaches are beer empties, despite the four waste bin system, says Clinton Vaz, CEO of vRecycle, a waste recycling company. Tourists throwing bottles out of moving vehicles is a common sight on coastal roads.
Remote islands and bays, where 500 boats run daily trips, are not spared. A citizen beach cleaning initiative by vRecycle, removed 3.17 tonnes of waste from just three bay clean-ups in 2018. “We could see the broken glass bottles on the rocks and pebbles in the water and on the sand of this remote island, accessible only by boat. The existing ban on alcohol on boats must be implemented, glass bottles on beaches must be banned and corporates must provide CSR and EPR funds for clean-ups,” says Vaz.
But the offending trio of polluting consumers, vendors and producers (46 local IMFL/beer distilleries, besides imported brands) continue to shift blame and evade accountability.
“Tourists are not just throwing out glass bottles. They are littering with many other things,” Dattaprasad Naik, President of All Goa Liquor Traders Association, told Mongabay-India.
Public exchequer picks up cleaning tab
Contrary to polluter pay principles, the government is left with the mammoth task and cost of waste/material collection, recovery and disposal. Beach cleaning contract costs annually, have escalated from an average of Rs. 20 million (two crores) before 2014 to Rs. 120 million (12 crores) now, for a 106 km long coastline, according to coastal tourism stakeholders. Contractors say they use a cleaning crew over 300 people daily, with 50 of them on the Baga-Sinquerim stretch itself. But smaller bays and islands go untended. Additionally, an involved local citizenry with high community living values regularly holds beach clean-ups.
Read more: A community movement saves a Goan heritage lake and brings hope
The Goa Waste Management Corporation (GWMC) pays a contractor roughly Rs. 650 per km per day to pick waste from highways and major roads, caused by mainly tourist vehicles. Roadside litter logged 65 tonnes in December 2020, a fraction of the total waste after contractors and independent rag pickers extracted the recoverable material, a GWMC official told Mongabay-India.
He also mentioned that the Hindustan Waste Treatment plant in North Goa received 250 kg of glass debris (85 percent beer and IMFL bottles) in January 2020, as against 11,000 kg of mixed unrecoverable plastic, from 27 village panchayats. This is after material recovery procedures are executed by panchayat waste contractors, who segregate paper, metal, hard plastic and other high-value scrap for sale to recyclers.
It was only in October 2020 that GWMC began recovering some costs by charging bulk generators of plastic waste Rs. 7200 per tonne for collecting, compact baling and transporting waste plastic to Karnataka cement factories as RDF (refuse derived fuel) in a bid to finally enforce Extended Producer Responsibility under the 2016 rules. “No one was implementing EPR. There are a lot of gaps in the system. But we have just begun charging bulk waste generators three months back,” the GWMC official added.
Waste glass problem unresolved
The mandatory authority, Goa State Pollution Control Board, has yet to get its systems going on glass. It is still not dealt with as a separate category like e-waste, medical waste, plastic, hazardous waste.
“We propose to enforce EPR for “alcobev” brand owners so that they can depute their people at material recovery facilities (MCF). But first, we are waiting for EPR guidelines for glass from the Central Pollution Control Board,” Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) Chairman Ganesh Shetgaonkar told Mongabay-India. Glass bottles need careful handling and inevitably break before they reach MCFs, so this proposal may not work, recyclers say.
What are the volumes of “alcobev” glass bottles in circulation in the state? Excise officials are unwilling to part with statistics of cases imported, produced, sold and exported. The state earned Rs. 4.8 billion (487 crores) in 2019-20 from excise duties and maintains detailed records of production and off-take of this revenue-generating sector. But there is palpable resistance to get producers to deal with their bottle waste.
Low recycle value of glass a problem
“There is a robust system in place to pick up empty bottles from (8113) bulk generator restaurant/hotel/tavern bars, where customers leave bottles behind. Some glass recycler will carefully pick up empties weekly, pay the bar owner and sell it back to producers for Rs. 3-5. Producers find it cheaper than the Rs. 7-8 for new bottles. But empties from the stand-alone alcohol vends and “wine shops”, where customers individually purchase crates, or bottles, consume them either at home or in public spaces could end up littering roads and beaches unless the take-back value is restored,” said Clinton Vaz of vRecycle.
He estimates glass comprises 10 percent of household waste. “Panchayat waste recovers/ragpickers, even scrapyards don’t want to lift glass off streets and homes, because it is bulky to store, fragile to handle and fetches just Rs. 2 per kg from a glass recycler. If he picks aluminium, he gets Rs. 70, plastic Rs. 12-15 and cardboard Rs. 10. That is why there are gaps in street recovery and bottles are the most visible litter on streets and beaches. For this, corporates and government should increase the street value of glass bottles, by restoring the take-back system, or printing a value on bottles, as done in Europe, which makes it lucrative for a rag picker/waste collector. There can be drop off points in place. Manufactures must have the social obligation to take back their bottles.”
Glass bottles have always been recycled. There are dedicated glass recyclers in major cities who collect 20,000-30,000 bottles a day of just one brand of beer/alcohol and sell it back to the company, says Vaz. The problem is that the companies don’t want to buy back officially via alcohol vendors, as done before, but want to do it through recyclers only. The take-back system that existed, where customers got back Rs. 3-5 on a beer bottler from the vendor, and therefore diligently returned it, after handling it carefully, has to be restored, he adds.
Some ten beer brands slowly opted out of the take-back system from 2000 onwards, with Kingfisher holding out longest until April 2020. Industry insiders say the brand faced a boycott from some traders, because of its take-back good practices.
“During a 2018 survey, the largest volumes of beach glass litter were of manufacturers that sold drink-and-throw beers, while there were almost nil amounts of Kingfisher, that until recently took back and recycled bottles only in Goa,” said Vaz.
Vendors seem happy to ditch the take-back system that involves storing empties on their premises. “Space is a major constraint for vendors, who store so many brands now in the market. We are not going to collect empties. Let the manufacturers create drop-off collection points,” Dattaprasad Naik told Mongabay-India.
Evidently, the industry is an influential lobby, plays by its own rules, and good practices get penalised. Concerned bureaucrats who in the past attempted to ban glass bottles on the beach and push for canned beer sales only, found their efforts stymied. But it is clear that the state has to get its glass act together soon.
Banner image: Beer bottle debris collected from the Grande Island cleanup in 2018. Photo from vRecycle.