Making a Marc
Afroz Shah and Cleaning Beaches
A young attorney in Mumbai, India, Afroz Shah was concerned about the litter that clogged Mumbai’s Versova Beach. Together with a much older friend, the now-deceased Harbansh Mathur, Shah determined to do something to restore Versova Beach to sandy beauty. As reported in a United Nations press release, the pair “decided to take on the piles of rubbish that had completely covered what was then the dirtiest beach in Mumbai. They started with picking up the trash themselves, and over time the cleanup grew into a national movement, with everyone from celebrities to slum dwellers and from schoolchildren to politicians joining Shah for his weekly ‘dates with the ocean.’” Approximately 4,000 tons of garbage were picked up from the beach by this massive volunteer movement. The Times of India reported that the junk befouling the beach included “plastic bags, cement sacks, glass bottles, pieces of clothing, and shoes” and even rose “many feet high in some places.”
Media attention to Shah’s cleaning campaign inspired similar efforts across India and even internationally.
The United Nations took note of the way Shah Made a Marc on Mother Earth and honored him for it. He won a 2016 Champion of the Earth Award, the top environmental honor given by the United Nations. “Shah’s efforts, and the hundreds of volunteers he has inspired, is a wonderful example of citizen action and reminds the rest of the world that even the most ambitious global agreements are only as good as the individual action and determination that brings them to life,” Erik Solheim, Chief of the United Nations Environment Project, asserts. “His outstanding leadership is drawing global attention to the devastating impacts of marine litter.”
100 weeks after making headlines with his clean-up efforts, in September 2017, Shah launched a second massive endeavor to rid Versova Beach of pollution. “Week 100 of the cleanup in Mumbai gives hope to the world that citizens can work sincerely, consistently, and persistently to save our ocean,” Shah declared. “It may be small steps but they have a big impact.”
In April 2020, the industrious and dedicated environmentalist turned his attention to another area, that of Mithi River. To clean that area, Shah galvanized the residents of Filterpada, a nearby slum. According to the Mumbai Mirror, “Through the week, occupants of 6,000 homes in the Filterpada slum colony near Vihar Lake – the source of Mithi – meticulously collect[ed] plastic waste” that they handed to Shah and his volunteers who then sent these waste products to recycling units. “We started visiting the Filterpada slum colony every Sunday around 5am, asking residents to wash whatever plastic they had, such as milk packets and biscuit sachets, and keep them aside,” Shah revealed. “Gradually, we trained them into cleaning plastic and segregating waste. Now they’re completely involved in the campaign.” An especially strong response was found among members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, an Islamic sect that places special emphasis on environmental issues.
By cleaning garbage from beaches, Afroz Shah and the many he inspires are truly Making a Mark on the World!
“Afroz Shah and UN Environment celebrate the 100-week anniversary of world’s largest beach cleanup . . . with another cleanup.” The United Nations. Sept. 15, 2017.
Baliga, Linah. “Afroz Shah gives Mithi River a new life, manages to clear 1.25-kim stretch in Mithi of plastic waste.” Mumbai Mirror. June 24, 2019.
“Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah to receive top UN environment award for Versova Beach clean-up.” The Times of India. Dec. 3, 2016.