In Mumbai, 'World's Largest Beach Clean-Up' Has Transformed the Versova Shore

A Mumbai-based lawyer and environmentalist is leading efforts by locals to rid Versova beach of its trash.

Plastic waste on a Mumbai beach. Credit: YouTube

Mumbai, the most populous city in India, is  known for its beaches. But piles of trash and sewage contamination have made them unsafe for visitors in recent years.

Some are more polluted than others. In a study of nine Mumbai beaches between November 2015 and May 2016, Juhu, Versova and Aksa were in the worst shape.

Nearly two years ago, residents of Versova decided to take matters into their own hands, inspired by Mumbai-based lawyer and environmentalist Afroze Shah.

In October 2015, Shah moved to his new apartment near Versova beach and noticed plastic waste on the beach, reaching 5.5 feet (1.67 meters) high in some portions. He and his 84-year-old neighbour, Harbansh Mathur, began to clean up the trash. Seeing their efforts, dozens of locals joined as volunteers and about 50,000 kilograms of waste was removed during the first clean-up on the 2.5-kilometre shore.

Still tons of waste needed to be removed, so they launched a weekly clean-up drive inviting more volunteers.

By December 2015, the local authorities provided tools such as garbage trucks and excavator machines for the volunteers and the drive transformed into a movement over the next six months. The volunteer base grew to 300 participants a week from all walks of life. Soon, the Versova Resident Volunteers (VRV) group was formed and they updated their progress regularly on Facebook.

In July 2016, VRV’s efforts were recognised internationally as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called it the “world’s largest beach clean-up in history”. By January, the group started cleaning the 52 toilets near the beach to stop sewage from ending up in the sea. By March, VRV had cleared five million kilograms (5,000 metric tons) of trash from Versova beach alone.

And the volunteers are still at it:

The UNEP recognised Shah’s achievement by making him a Champion of the Earth, the United Nations’ highest environmental award.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised Shah’s initiative as an “inspiring example” in the fight against pollution:

The initiative is spreading. This one is from the Kahn (Khan) river cleanup in Indore, about 600 kilometres from Mumbai:

And people are wanting more:

According to UNEP, 13 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans every year and the world needs to act now. People now have a successful example in Versova beach, but many more steps are needed to reduce plastic wastes and make waste disposal more efficient.

This story originally appeared in Global Voices.