Inspirational Publié le 19 août 2019

Afroz Shah: Small steps, big impact

The Indian lawyer who did one of the biggest beach cleanups in the world, collecting 5.3 million kilograms of waste from the beach for in 21 months.

Every year, more than 6 billion pounds of garbage, mainly plastic, end up in the oceans. Only a few places in the world remain untouched by environmental pollution. What is finally beginning to worry governments is that environmental issues are growing worse over time, pushing some countries to declare a climate change emergency. Some attempts were made to diminish the impact on nature, such as prohibiting the use of straws or plastic bags in some areas of the world. However, these regulations have proved not to be enough.

The irresponsible practices in waste management have caused an enormous impact. Thousands of miles of water, house of a large variety of creatures, are infested with plastic bags, fishing nets, chemicals and other pollutants. For most of the world population, water is a resource people have easy access to. In the comfort of their homes, they know water pollution is an urgent issue… somewhere else. Usually, people turn a blind eye on environmental problems because they seem to be out of their control. However, there are many things that everybody can do.
Afroz Shah is an example to follow. He has lived all his life on the coasts of Mumbai, very close to Versova Beach. A few years ago, plastic waste covered most of the beach and the waves of filth prevented people from getting in the water—if they ever reached it. Afroz knew plastics found on that beach have been in the environment for a very long time, maybe for 10 or 20 years. Amid this dark scenery, there was hope. “I said to myself: ‘I don’t know how long it’s going to take; I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. But I knew I had to make a start. I needed to bond with my environment.’”, explains Afroz.

That is how the journey started. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and began picking trash. Only on his first day, he collected five bags full of plastic waste. If two hands were able to collect so much plastic: What if the 1.5 billion people living in India did the same? And, what if every inhabitant in the world contributed to the cause? Shah has inspired volunteers from over the world to join him in the clean-up.

Afroz began cleaning Versova in October 2015. Until the present, he has removed 4,300 tonnes of plastic from the beach. One and a half year after he started cleaning the beach, the UN recognized his accomplishments by labelling his project as the biggest beach clean-up in the world and by giving him the Champions of the Earth Award.

Nature is slowly recovering from pollution. Twenty years ago, Radley turtles spawned on Versova Beach, “We have devastated our oceans, the lives of the species that live there, and we have no right to do that. My rights end where the rights of other species begin. I had invaded their houses and food habits”, explains Afroz. At present, Radley turtles are back again. What used to be a dump, is now a turtle hatchery.

The Indian lawyer made clear his engagement with the ocean is for life. He believes that natural problems need simple and natural answers. His experience proves that every contribution counts, and that a small action can be big enough to inspire others to do the same. Afroz plans to continue his beach clean-up crusade, raising awareness about plastic waste. Also, informing people about the need to change the approach to producing, using and discarding plastic waste. In order to make a change, we all have to work together. We owe it to nature.

Video and photo: © UN Environment