Afroz Shah   

By Geeta Wahab
Name Afroz Shah
Occupation Lawyer, environmentalist, founder of the Versova Beach Cleanup and the Afroz Shah Foundation.
Category Crusader
Country of Residence India

Why we felt he needs to be included in this list: Afroz Shah spearheaded the Versova Beach Cleanup, which became known as the world’s largest ever beach cleanup; he was named Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Program; and he founded the Afroz Shah Foundation to help spread his mission across India and the world.

Mumbai’s Versova Beach, up until a few years ago, had become choked with up to 5.5 feet of rotting refuse and trash — most of it plastic. Enter Afroz Shah, a lawyer at the Mumbai High Court, who took it upon himself to clean it up.  

It all started when Shah moved to Versova Beach in 2015. He had played there as a child and was disheartened to see how much it had changed — the once pristine coastline was now a wasteland covered in a thick blanket of plastic bags, glass bottles, pieces of clothing, shoes and other litter. Shah and his 84-year-old neighbour, Harbansh Mathur, who has since passed away, rolled up their sleeves and started picking up trash from the beach every Sunday morning.

That’s why my work in Mumbai is to connect people up to see that. That I and you share a common heritage… that heritage that you’re going to give to the next generation is coexisting with other species and our planet. We have to take some practical doable steps every week

Bright Vibes

Shah hasn’t stopped cleaning up since. While working as a lawyer during the week, Shah devoted nearly all his free time to his cause, inspiring more than 200,000 volunteers, from at least 12 countries, to join him in what’s been called the world’s biggest beach cleanup. By 2018, Versova Beach was finally clean, with Shah estimating that more than 12,000 tonnes of plastic was removed from the three-kilometer stretch of beach since starting.

The Versova cleanup became about more than removing garbage. Shah would cook food and leverage the communal meal to meet with, and speak to, locals about the importance of garbage disposal and what that meant for their health and local fishing businesses and for the environment. He also visited local schools and colleges to talk about circular economy and ecologically positive decision making.

With Versova Beach clean, Shah’s cleanups expanded to another beach, a stretch of the Mithi River and to other regions of India. The movement has cleared more than 60 million pounds of garbage (mostly plastic) from Mumbai’s beaches and waterways. He’s also working with coastal communities, educating and assisting villagers in reducing, managing and recycling their plastic waste, because in areas lacking proper waste management systems, trash often ends up in creeks and rivers and then the ocean.

Every river has a story to tell us. We’re not listening.

Live Mint

Until recently, Shah’s work was a grassroots effort he coordinated on social media. He has now started the Afroz Shah Foundation to help spread his mission across the country and around the world.  

In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme honoured Shah with the Champion of the Earth Award for his unwavering dedication to cleaning Versova Beach. His work has earned him global attention and Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Randeep Hooda and politicians like Aditya Thackeray embraced his mission and joined his cleanups. Last month, CNN honoured Shah as one of their Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2019, for making the world a better place.

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