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.
— Swati Deshpande (@swatidTOI) June 18, 2017
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.
— Ketan Nardhani (@ketan83) June 4, 2017
— Roxanna Samii (@rsamii) June 6, 2017
This is versova beach an hour back. Week 85 of cleanup.Versova beach is gorgeous and clean now.we have done our bit.We need to maintain it. pic.twitter.com/98q9RD5aAg
— Afroz Shah (@AfrozShah1) May 20, 2017
— M Venkaiah Naidu (@MVenkaiahNaidu) May 22, 2017
And that's some view !
Couldn't believe this is exactly the same beach which I visited last year and my friend was like, man, its so dirty. pic.twitter.com/EgFErIirm8
— The Blogger Buddy (@beingDJ) June 11, 2017
And the volunteers are still at it:
Week 88 cleanup ends. 300 fully grown coconut trees get their home at versova beach .Wonderful weekend .We go back to our roots. pic.twitter.com/BlI0Pjbz5E
— Afroz Shah (@AfrozShah1) June 11, 2017
Week 90 of the cleanup ends. Saturday and Sunday , we picked up 160 tons of plastic . Lashing rain and lashing temperament of volunteers. pic.twitter.com/KFiZwy0x4Z
— Afroz Shah (@AfrozShah1) June 25, 2017
The UNEP recognised Shah’s achievement by making him a Champion of the Earth, the United Nations’ highest environmental award.
— Adnan Halawi (@AdnanHalawi) June 12, 2017
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised Shah’s initiative as an “inspiring example” in the fight against pollution:
— ChaitanyaChinchlikar (@filmy_foodie) May 28, 2017
The initiative is spreading. This one is from the Kahn (Khan) river cleanup in Indore, about 600 kilometres from Mumbai:
— Abhijeet Geete (@geete_abhijeet) June 24, 2017
— Sanyam Jain (@modivanibharat) June 23, 2017
And people are wanting more:
@AfrozShah1 bro I think we need a mass movement across Indian coastal line like Mumbai cleanup,u can make a big change with ur popularity
— vicky (@vicky19624021) June 11, 2017
— Erik Solheim (@ErikSolheim) June 11, 2017
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.