Beach cleaners Lisbon and Zsuzsanna are picking up litter through Mumbai beach cleanups and making paver blocks out of waste plastic while educating people about waste management.
The beaches of Mumbai are one of the city's major attractions, but their beauty is slowly deteriorating, with loads of plastic accumulating daily. Lisbon from Vasai, Thane, and his wife Zsuzsanna from Hungary encountered this problem when they visited a beach in Vasai with their kids Nascha and Lucius. Their kids picked up the plastic bottles lying on the beach and started playing with them. This is when the parents thought of finding a solution to this problem and began Mumbai beach cleanups.
"The idea came to start a pickup drive from that on itself because we wanted to do something for our kids so that they have a clean environment where they can grow up," says Zsuzsanna. So the family started going to the beach once a week and collecting as much waste as possible. Initially, they used to do these drives alone and carry the collected litter in bags, put it on their scooter, and dispose of it at the concerned place. "Disposing of the waste was also a challenge back then because there were no bins," says the beach cleaner.
Slowly, the family came to the realization that cleaning up was not a job for just the four of them; they needed more people to contribute. They began sharing pictures of their cleanup drives on social media but received little response. However, everything changed when a local news media reporter published a small article about their efforts, prompting others to join in. "Since then, we have cleaned Versova, Suruchi, Chowpathy, Bena, Rangaon, and Arnala beaches, with the help of 12,000 volunteers, and have collected approximately 800 tonnes of garbage," says the couple. They have been organizing these cleanups every Sunday since 2017, and what surprises them the most is that their children, Nascha (7) and Lucius (8), have actively participated in over 230 cleanups.
Where does all this collected plastic go? They recycle some of it, some of it is given to the concerned department, and paver blocks are made out of some. The paver blocks are made using shredded fishing nets and plastic. Around 40% of plastic is used inside, and they are quite strong. "I am also in talks with the Vasai Municipal Commissioner to recycle the plastic into paver blocks and use it for streets and parks," says Lisbon. They have also started collecting plastic waste from houses and giving it for recycling as it is easy to recycle clean plastic than dirty ones found on beaches.
The duo has also collaborated with various NGOs and foundations. Recently they have partnered with Eyesea, a New Zealand-based plastic mapping organization. They use an AI model to figure out what type of plastic comes from where and how to stop it. The Mangrove Foundation, which is a government organization and forest department, is also associated with them for mangrove conservation. "To date, we have planted 5000 trees and tried to revive the mangroves of the city," said Lisbon.
“Once, while I was cleaning the beach on a Sunday morning, a teenage boy kept staring at me for 15 minutes. Finally, he approached me and asked, 'What are you doing?' I replied, 'I'm picking up plastic.' He questioned, 'Why are you doing it? There's so much.' I responded, 'Somebody has to pick it up.' Upon hearing this, he decided to join me in the cleaning efforts. Three days later, 400 people came to help me on that beach, and he was one of them," shared Lisbon as he recounted his favourite memory.
In addition to organizing clean-ups, they also conduct presentations on waste management in schools and colleges. "Two years ago, we delivered a lecture at IIT Mumbai,' recalls the beach cleaner. 'The primary reason I dedicate myself to cleaning the beach is to prevent waste from returning to the ocean. Fish, birds, animals, and trees cannot voice their concerns about what is happening to them. When someone is unable to speak out, it becomes crucial for those who can make a difference to take action," Lisbon emphasizes as his parting message.