Happy Planet

This lawyer inspired 12,000 volunteers to clean up Mumbai’s dirtiest beach

In what he describes as a “date with the ocean”, 33 year old water-loving Afroz Shah has spent the past 120 Sundays clearing rubbish from Versova beach outside Mumbai - one of the world’s biggest (and most inspiring) beach clean ups to date.

The city of Mumbai may have 72 miles of coastline but it’s no tanning hotspot, or at least its wasn’t before Afroz Shah took matters into his own hands. Plastic and rubbish lined Versova beach, reaching up to 5 feet high in some areas. Not exactly the ‘beach views’ its residents deserve.

With few rubbish trucks passing by and a lack of resources to handle such a monumental amount of debris, local lawyer Afroz Shah and his 84 year old neighbour knew that something needed to change – and that change would have to start with them. In 2015, the Versova beach coastal clean up project was born. What started off with a few keen friends gathering on weekends to clear the rubbish soon grew to epic proportions, with roughly 12,000 volunteers pitching in every week.

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More than a beach cleanup, it became a chance to bring together a community of people who adored their home, and wanted to do their part.

The efforts didn’t stop locally. The project soon attracted people from Europe and other parts of Asia, and the clean-up squad is made up of just about every culture, background and profession from students to soldiers. Every member of the service has been attracted to the project for their own person motivations, with many realising just how important it is to get actively involved in protecting the environment to ensure it’s still there for future generations to enjoy.

It’s safe to say that this attempt to restore the beach back to it’s original, majestic state has been a success on all kinds of levels. To date, Afroz and his gang of determined eco-warriors have cleared an estimated 13,000 tonnes of debris, and the beach once covered in trash is now available to enjoy as it should be.

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Astounded by the growth of the initiative, Shah has recognised that this is the perfect opportunity to campaign for a change in environmental policy in India, and rethink views on recycling and waste. In collaboration with the local government, Shah looks to manage on-the-ground support of the project, organising field trips to teach the younger generation about environmental protection.

Will he stop there? Not likely – this lawyer is a man on a mission. He’ll soon expand his clean up strategy to the surrounding mangrove forests which have been submerged in plastic. If there’s one thing we can learn from Afroz, it’s that you can still have a 9-5 and lead the fight for sustainability in your neighbourhood. Even if it just starts with you and a few mates… or your 84 year old neighbour.