How Lisbon Ferrao and his 12,000 eco-warriors are reviving Mumbai's beaches – The Goodness Journal

700 Tons of Garbage Vanished from Mumbai's Beaches! Meet the Incredible Ferrao Family.

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When people ask me why I do what I do, I don’t quite know how to respond. Is it for my kids? Our environment? All I know for sure is that someone’s gotta do it, and why not me?

“I’m not littering much. There are people doing worse.” This is how 1.4 billion people in India think when they throw a plastic bottle on the street or leave it on a beach. The problem doesn’t look big when seen through a small lens and a bit of ignorance. I realised change was needed when I simply paid attention to my surroundings, and that led me to having an army of 12,000 volunteers supporting our cause today.

I was 8 years old when my father passed away, and we moved from Kuwait to Mumbai. Until 2015, much of my time was spent sculpting and writing fiction novels, one of which was published in 2010. But then life took its course, and I was led to serve a bigger purpose. Mumbai is exactly as it is described: a place of dreams and limitless possibilities but also of crowds, concrete heights, and unmatched commotion. I moved to Vasai when I was 15, and there were around seven clean beaches here. I made the best memories on these mostly empty beaches because that was a place for me and my friends to hang out. The beaches were close to my heart also because they reminded me of my childhood when I visited my grandparents in Karnataka at their rice farm. It made me feel closer to nature, and when years later I saw the beauty of it get ripped off, I knew I had to do something.

In 2015, I took my son and daughter to one of these beaches for a fun day, and as I was reminiscing and reliving memories, I noticed something - my children were playing with glass bottles they had found on the beach and were making sandcastles with sand that had pieces of plastic in them. I noticed several such bottles, plastic bags, and a lot more litter, even medical waste lying around. The place was more dangerous than beautiful. Imagine how unsafe it was for my kids or anybody’s children to be exposed to that amount of waste. That's when my wife and I decided that each time we went to the beach, we'd carry a small bag to pick up the trash and do our part in not littering the beach. That was how the seed for the Vasai Beach Cleaners was sown.


Cleaning for the past and the future

The fact that a random family, including a Hungarian lady, my wife, was cleaning Vasai's beaches was intriguing to people. As we kept on with our little cleaning ventures, one of the local news organisations wanted to cover our story. People were noticing our work, and soon many mainstream newspapers covered us. An irregular initiative became a Sunday staple, and today, we have over 12000 volunteers who pick litter from the beaches in Mumbai, with over 700 tonnes of plastic waste collected.

I wanted the drives to involve the largest crowd possible. So, I started funding beach clean-up drives to provide volunteers with complimentary breakfast, gloves, and other cleaning equipment. It was my way of encouraging them to show up. Eventually, we were funded by some generous corporate institutions. The drives exposed us to ground realities we never expected. One of our saddest discoveries was when we found a dead turtle in a heap of plastic. It made us realise how badly our waste management was killing marine life.

Picking up plastic wasn’t enough anymore because there was always more to pick up. So, we started recycling. Once every month, I go door-to-door collecting plastic and send it to a recycling company where it is best treated. We have managed to recycle around 1200 kg of plastic around Vasai and have set up eco-bins around beaches for plastic waste disposal, so no stone is left unturned. 

Over the years with corporate support, we have successfully planted 5000 saplings, and to take it up a notch, we will soon be launching Green Dharti, an AR (augmented reality) app. The app helps you track your planting initiatives. Every time you plant a sapling at any desired location, the app generates data on the location, number of plants, and kind of sapling, all in one place for you to plan better initiatives. This will work greatly for corporate companies wanting to conduct CSR initiatives with proper data. 

The app is also planned to have a recycling service that allows you to collect household plastic waste, and a local recycler will be assigned to pick up the waste. Every person who takes the initiative to plant a sapling or recycle some plastic receives special discounts and offers on restaurants and other services. The goal is to make as many people as possible and corporate institutions aware that they support environmental restoration with us.

I believe that change can only be brought about if we decide to be aware, learn, and execute on an individual level. If you ask me, I’d say the solution is very simple yet suffers due to delayed execution.


Avoid the societal construct

Society has trained us to believe and think in a certain way. We are told what to care about and what not to care about our entire lives. From choosing a nursery to our last riots, every decision is influenced by our surroundings, and more often than not, it is to create an impression.

But, you don’t need shiny things for people to appreciate you. Passion attracts people before anything else. Your passion becomes the thing that sticks with people after you are long gone. The reason I work for the environment is that I don’t want to sit back and say I didn't do anything about the dying world when I get old. I want to be on the right side of history and encourage people to join me on this journey.

With all these plans, I wish to encourage the youth of the country to start early. In nearly 5 years, we have cleaned 700 tonnes of garbage. Had I done it much earlier, I could've made a bigger impact. So, the right time to start is now!

Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Bhairavi Hiremath

Bhairavi Hiremath

Bhairavi Hiremath

With words as her medium and a diary full of scribbled ideas, she is usually found looking for ways to use her writing to impact for Good. If she’s out of sight, she’s probably either reading, petting cats, jamming to retro Bollywood, or of course, writing!

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