Mumbai is home to the world's largest beach cleanup

Mumbai beach cleanup
via Afroz Shah/Twitter

For the past 119 Sundays, volunteers have toiled in the sludge to remove 12,000 tonnes of plastic from Versova Beach -- and they're still going strong.

In October 2015, a young lawyer from Mumbai named Afroz Shah decided to do something about all the garbage on his beloved Versova Beach. Along with his 84-year-old neighbor, Harbansh Mother, Shah headed out with gloves and a bag to start picking up trash. Little did he know it would become a huge movement.

Over time, his beach-cleaning efforts gained momentum. He rallied volunteers -- friends, neighbors, fishermen, children, even Bollywood film stars -- by knocking on doors and talking about the importance of cleaning up the beach. People began gathering for weekly Sunday afternoon clean-ups, to participate in what Shah calls "a date with the ocean" but is more aptly described as "labouring shin-deep in rotting garbage under the scorching Indian sun."

Their efforts have paid off and, after 119 consecutive weeks, Versova has been completely transformed. The sand is now visible. Shah estimates that more than 12,000 tonnes of plastic have been removed from the 3-km stretch of beach since starting. He shared an update on Twitter from this past weekend's cleanup:

This tremendous effort has been formally recognized by the United Nations, which recognized Shah as a 'Champion of the Earth' in 2016. His work was also an integral part of last year's documentary film, "A Plastic Tide," reviewed here on TreeHugger.

It is heart-warming and inspiring to see how so many residents of Mumbai have come together to effect change, to fight for clean natural spaces, and to right a grievous wrong inflicted on the Earth by human consumer habits.

And yet, as Shah says in the short video below, it's a great burden, too. He cannot stop this work because the tide of plastic will simply return to Versova Beach. It's an ongoing fight, considering the 8 million tonnes of plastic that continue to be dumped into the world's oceans annually. Until that flow is halted, Shah's work will never end.

At least he's setting an example that is bound to influence the next generation of young Indian leaders. As one 15-year-old girl participating in a cleanup told Sky News:

"We are clearing up the mess created by our parents. If we don’t want our generation to face the problem of plastic, we have to come here and clean it up."

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