Bollywood stars, politicians and hundreds of schoolchildren joined UN Environment Champion of the Earth Afroz Shah on Mumbai’s Versova Beach on Sunday to plant 500 trees and collect plastic from the high tide line for World Environment Day.
The palm-planting is the latest stage in the vast volunteer clean-up that has transformed the beach in India’s biggest city from a stinking dump to a symbol of how citizen action can help change the world.
It also kicks off a slew of clean-up activities from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea organized around World Environment Day on 5 June that address the growing issue of marine litter, and that Shah has helped to inspire.
Speaking from the shore, Shah told UN Environment that about 1,000 people had turned out to help plant the trees and that they were now combing the beach for freshly washed-up trash.
“Everyone is busying themselves picking up plastic brought in by the tide,” Shah said. “There is a whole mass of humanity here, people from all walks of life.”
Shah and a neighbour began cleaning the beach in their spare time in 2015. The effort quickly mushroomed, drawing thousands of helpers who have removed an astonishing 5,500 tons of the discarded plastic and decomposing waste that had engulfed it.
Today, the 2.5 kilometre strand is almost back to its former glory, offering respite from Mumbai’s urban maelstrom. UN Environment last year recognized Shah’s achievement by making him a Champion of the Earth, the United Nations’ highest environmental award.
The Versova Beach clean-up has made headlines across the world, raising awareness of the spiralling problem of marine litter and spawning similar efforts on all continents.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week described Shah’s initiative as an “inspiring example” in the fight against pollution. Modi also chose 5 June to launch a massive push to improve waste management and encourage recycling in the world’s second most populous nation.
Among the many other clean-ups organized for World Environment, volunteers from both sides of the US-Mexico border are showing solidarity against common environmental threats by teaming up to clean the city beach in Tijuana. People will also flock to the beaches of East Africa - from Kenya, which has recently announced a plastic bag-ban, to Tanzania and Mozambique. There will be 150 clean-ups across Canada, and others in Azerbaijan, Spain, the Baltic Sea, Lebanon, the Greek Islands, Egypt, Australia, the United States, Norway, and even the Arctic.
In February, UN Environment launched the #CleanSeas campaign, urging governments to pass policies to reduce plastic waste and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to the environment.
Click here to find a World Environment Day activity near you or to register your own.