For the past 120 Sundays, you wouldn't have found Afroz Shah sleeping in, gathering with friends, or indulging in the last hours of the weekend. Instead, the lawyer has been spending his days picking up trash along Versova Beach outside Mumbai in what he calls "a date with the ocean."
Shah first kick-started his coastal clearing back in October 2015, when Versova Beach was covered in debris climbing 5 feet high in some areas. At the time, a lack of waste infrastructure meant very few garbage pick-up trucks and next-to-no education about recycling across most of Mumbai. While sweeping government regulations were needed, Shah and his 84-year-old neighbor, Harbansh Mother (who has since passed away), took it upon themselves to build momentum on a grass-roots level.
What began as a few nature lovers, the cleanup team eventually amassed hundreds more helping hands, then thousands. Today, an estimated 12,000 volunteers have taken part in the weekend washing, making it one of the largest coastal cleanups in the world.
People of all ages and backgrounds (including a few local celebs) have caught wind of the movement, each finding their own reasons to spend free time bringing the beach back to its original glory. "We are clearing the mess created by our parents," 15-year-old cleaner Titiksha Kabra told Sky News. "If we don’t want our generation to face the problem of plastic, we have to come here and clean it up."
Thanks to their dedication, Versova Beach has been completely transformed. The sand, once covered in single-use plastics and household debris of all sorts, shines a bright, inviting white, and an estimated 13,000 tons of waste has been cleared. And the initiative is just getting started.