17,00,32,429 pieces of plastic litter Kerala’s coast: Study

Malappuram is the most littered district in Kerala, while Alappuzha is the least, the study found

By Fiola Tariang
Published: Friday 28 June 2019
A member of Thanal inspects a Kerala beach. Photo: Sanitta S Mathew
A member of Thanal inspects a Kerala beach. Photo: Sanitta S Mathew A member of Thanal inspects a Kerala beach. Photo: Sanitta S Mathew

A massive 17,00,32,429 pieces of plastic are littering nine districts of the Kerala coast. They have an approximate weight of 1,057 tonnes.

That is the conclusion drawn by Thanal, a Kerala-based environmental organisation, which conducted a study to support the formation of an administration dedicated to the reduction of plastics and mitigation of marine pollution.

The team sampled 59 locations between the nine districts, over a period of five months — January to May 2019.

Through the calculation of the litter index (the number of plastic litter in a plot divided by the area of the respective plot), they observed that Malappuram exceeded the state litter index average of 1.66 pieces per square metre, by reaching 2.86 pieces per square metre.

Malappuram is thus the most littered district in Kerala. On the other hand, Alappuzha is the least, with a figure of 0.87 pieces per square metre.

Study methodology

Through Google Earth and Global Positioning System, the team identified the regions they would sample. The locations were segregated into eight categories — urban residential, rural residential, fishing communities / ports, tourist sites, industrial, open beaches, river-mouths / estuaries and others.

The litter found and collected was placed in labelled cloth bags, and then taken for analysis. It was categorised according to the type of plastic, such as HDPE (High-density polyethylene), LDPE (Low-density polyethylene), PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) and others.

Facts at a glance


Value (all figures are from the Kerala Coast)

Average plastic litter index

1.66 pieces per square metre 

10.31 gm per square metre

Total No of plastic litter

(No of handpicks required for clean up)

17,00,32,429 pieces

Total weight of plastic litter

(No of handpicks required for clean up)


1,057.45 tonnes

Total no. of plastic bags



85.54 lakh pieces

Total no. of plastic cutlery


49.60 lakh pieces


Since there are multiple stakeholders involved in maintaining the coast in Kerala and other states, there is no unified authority which can enforce strict laws. This is causing these areas to be abused, Nikhilesh Paliath, a member of the team that conducted the study, noted.

This view is supported by the findings of the study.

A huge number of the waste found comprised of single-use plastics such as carry bags (85.54 lakh pieces), plastic cutlery (49.60 lakh pieces) and tobacco products (46.81 lakh pieces).

In addition to these items, the waste contribution of products relating to food and snacks, fishing activities, tobacco products, and personal care/ homecare came to 25 per cent, 17 per cent, four per cent and three per cent respectively.


The team attempted to sort the collected litter into specific categories (using the guidelines from the Union government’s ‘Plastic Waste Management and Handling Rules 2018’, ‘Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules 2016’ and ‘Bio-medical Waste Management Rules 2016’.

However, the reality of the segregation process was not so simple, due to a majority of the plastic waste consisting of minute fragments with unknown origins. In fact, some beaches looked deceivingly clean due to the fragments being ‘camouflaged’ in the sand.

A shocking observation was that none of the beaches sampled had dustbins, which is a violation of the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. The rules state that a bin should be present every 500 metres.

What next?

Currently, Thanal is in the process of drafting a recommendation involving the simple measures various stakeholders can each take in order to preserve these areas. These stakeholders include those who live near beaches, visitors and tourists as well as industries and harbours located on the coast.

The ideal system should involve integrating various stakeholders responsible for the protection of coastal areas with clear responsibilities and accountability, says Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager at Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

“We need more such studies across various coastal areas of the country to highlight the scale of the problem and push for action to curb land-based pollution. It is only cleaner and sustainable cities that will lead to clear water and oceans,” Sambyal added. 

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