A Mumbai beach called Versova was covered in used plastic for the longest time. Imagine bottles, dirty plates, bags and wasted plastic skewed all over so that Versova did not look like a beach, but rather a large landfill. The United Nations branded this now, virgin stretch of shoreline the “world’s largest beach clean-up project”. This restoration job took 21 months and involved the cleaning of 2.5 kilometers of the beach. In total, volunteers picked up 5.3 million kilograms of trash and plastic.
Afoz Shah, a lawyer, and his volunteers made the elimination of plastic waste a reality for Versova beach. Shah took initiative one day in 2015 to pick up the trash he saw on his walks. Eventually, his neighbor joined him and that led to 1,000 volunteers pulling up their sleeves and getting dirty. Shah has also taken it upon himself to educate the locals about sustainable waste practices to residents who live along the coastline. Fifty-five thousand citizens live in the Versova beach area.
The Problem: Plastic Waste in India
The mass amount of wasted plastic Shah and his volunteers found on this beach is just a peek into the throw-away mentality of India. People have littered several other beaches nearby with plastic. Creeks are transporting tons of plastic to beaches with their currents. These creeks run by slums and are turned into sewers, dragging the plastic into the waters. Sadly, most slums have no garbage pick-up. As a result, most inhabitants throw their trash into the water to become someone else’s problem.
The government is now paying residents to collect plastic bags. The government wants to promote that collecting plastic bags is a means of income in the hopes of deterring the laissez-faire mindset amongst Indians when it comes to wasted plastic.
In fact, municipal authorities are now starting to criminalize the use of plastic bags. These new laws can come with $366 fines and jail time. Companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks are even feeling the heat to change their packaging. Plastic pollution in India is affecting water sources by blocking up streets and waterways, but hopefully, these stern new laws will make the streets clear.
Thirteen million tons of plastic end up in the world’s ocean every single year. Imagine dumping two trucks full of trash every minute into the ocean. The UNEP advises that plastic not only threatens marine life but also human life. Hopefully, more countries will take a page from India’s book and start implementing strict laws towards plastic waste.
So far, the work of the volunteers to clear Versova beach has had a significant impact. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Olive Ridley turtles have started hatching on the beach. Olive Ridley turtles are the smallest in the ocean and no one has spotted them in decades. So far, 80 of the Olive Ridley turtles have survived and made it to the Arabian Sea.
– Jennifer O’Brien