Consumerism – Instant Gratification, at the Expense of our Environment?

When the average person thinks of the beach, they would probably picture the clear waters of the sea and the adjacent stretch of sand along the shore, coupled with a few annoying seagulls squawking in the distance. 

I do not visit the beach often, but that was how I remembered East Coast where I last popped by as a young lad, close to a decade ago. I remember digging my hands into the pale yellow sand, grabbing piles of it and shoving them into buckets to make sandcastles, only for the incoming waves to approach and wash away my (terribly crafted) empire. Times were fun then, and I definitely wouldn’t mind going back to that very beach to relive some memories.

…If the entire beach wasn’t filled with foreign objects, that is. 

As part of the annual beach cleanup by my CCA, I visited East Coast Park again, years after my last one. While I was aware that there may be some traces of trash at the beach, what I did not expect was the sheer…variety of discarded items my group and I have found throughout our cleanup. If eight-year-old me were to stick her hands into the sand as she did before today, she would be in for a surprise.

The first peculiar item we found was a small lightbulb. It was pretty small and had some algae growing on its side, which only meant it had been there for a considerable amount of time. Besides the one shown in the picture, there were more of them scattered about different points along the beach. 

The small lightbulb in question.

Next, we found one and a half slippers (yes, you read that correctly). We never got to find the missing half of the second slipper, but I like to think that it’s sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean. 

The first (intact) slipper.
The other (half) of the slipper.

The last strange item we found was a plastic bottle. And while there were plenty of plastic bottles we picked up along the beach, what made this one stand out in particular was its contents. It was filled with…suspicious-looking yellow liquid. I did not get a picture of it (probably because I was a little too disturbed), but it was definitely an interesting find, to say the least.

While most of the trash we picked up was still considered ‘normal’ – such as the usual cigarettes, pieces of styrofoam and (empty) plastic bottles, those were some of the more notable items we have found during our project. However, it is important to note that at the end of the day, trash is still trash. Even after our groups’ effort to clean up as much as we can, it is the unfortunate truth that in just a span of days, whatever we have cleared will eventually be replaced with more garbage. 

With the rise of consumerism in Singapore, an increasing amount of waste is produced on a daily basis, some of which end up in these public spaces we once enjoyed. Both the government and other volunteer groups can step in and host more beach cleanups like the one my CCA has, but the sheer amount of waste being dumped along the shores every day makes it almost impossible to sustain a positive outcome. I realised that for as long as consumerism persists, the problem can only be temporarily mitigated and not truly rectified.

Perhaps it is time for us to really be aware of and take accountability for our actions, and not make judgments based on sheer convenience or instant gratification. Only then would the cleanliness and conditions of our public spaces be restored in the slightest.

East Coast Park, in the early afternoon.

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