World Environment Day
05 June 2017

This year, World Environment Day (WED) coincided with the start of the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference, from 5-9 June in New York, and the United Nations in India raised awareness for both by taking part in two community-led events in Mumbai.

On 4 June, the day before WED, the United Nations joined Mumbai city lawyer and activist, Afroz Shah, and more than a thousand volunteers to help clean up plastic trash that the Arabian Sea had washed onto Versova Beach. It was the 87th weekend that Versova residents led by Mr. Shah have been cleaning the beach and on June 4th, they removed over 160 tonnes of plastic and planted 500 trees.

Apart from the United Nations, a private bank joined the effort, as did 80 volunteers from a Mazagaon based ship care company, a youth organisation, the All India Plastic Manufacturing Association, Lions International, Rotaract, Rotary, Lions and Class 9 students of Mount Mary high school from Goregaon. The UN delegation was led by UN Environment Country Chief Vijay Samnotra.

“We will continue the clean-up and will not rest until we free our ocean and beaches of marine litter,” Shah said while pulling large pieces of plastic out of the sand.

More than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s Oceans every year – about one garbage truck of plastic every minute or almost 1500 garbage trucks per day. Eighty percent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic and plastic waste kills one million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish, every year.

“It was hugely inspiring to see so many volunteers here on Versova Beach today,” Derk Segaar, Director of the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan, said. “But the sheer amount of garbage on the beach was also a huge wake-up call for me personally, and it should be a wake-up call for Mumbai, for India and for the World.”

Of course, cleaning up the garbage after it has ended up in the ocean is not the solution; the problem needs to be tackled at the source.

On 5 June, the Bhamla Foundation hosted an open-air star-studded WED celebration on Carter Road in Mumbai that celebrated the efforts of various individuals, activists and local community organizations involved in waste management, the separation of garbage, trash recycling and other environmental projects. Various actors, such as Neha Dhupia, Karisma Kapoor, and Vivian Dsena as well as musicians, comedians and politicians attended the event to express their support.

Mr. Segaar announced that the UN Ocean Conference that week would make a start in coming up with concrete actions to stop the decline of the health of our oceans, including measures that would reduce the amount of plastic being dumped into the ocean.

One youth organization at the event, Team Swachhalay, had already made a start in this regard, by launching a campaign to encourage people to refuse single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and water bottles under the hashtag #SayNoToPlastic. “These often-used items should be made of bio-degradable materials that decompose easily, to avoid they do damage to the environment for generations to come,” one member of Team Swachhalay explained.