21 Oct 2019 - Afroz Shah, a lawyer in Mumbai, hasn't had a weekend off in four years. But he hasn't spent this time writing briefs or preparing for court.
His mission? Saving the world's oceans from plastic pollution.
It's a calling he found in 2015 after moving to a community in Mumbai called Versova Beach. He had played there as a child and was upset to see how much it had changed. The sand was no longer visible because it was covered by a layer of garbage more than five feet thick -- most of it plastic waste.
"The whole beach was like a carpet of plastic," he said. "It repulsed me."
The unsightly mess Shah had stumbled upon is part of a global environmental crisis. More than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the world's oceans each year -- the equivalent of a garbage truck dumped every minute. It's predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
The results are devastating. More than 1 million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish die from plastic pollution each year.
"The marine species have no choice at all," Shah said. "We are attacking their habitats, their food. Plastic in (the) ocean is a killer."
In October 2015, Shah began picking up trash from the beach every Sunday morning. At first, it was just him and a neighbor, and then he began recruiting others to join in. Word spread and with help from social media, more volunteers got involved.
Shah hasn't stopped since. He's now spent 209 weekends dedicated to this mission, inspiring more than 200,000 volunteers to join him in what's been called the world's biggest beach cleanup. By October 2018, Versova Beach was finally clean and Shah's cleanups expanded to another beach as well as a stretch of the Mithi River and other regions of India.
All told, the movement has cleared more than 60 million pounds of garbage -- mostly plastic waste -- from Mumbai's beaches and waterways.
For Shah, the work has always been a personal journey, but it has earned global attention. After he was honored as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations in 2016, Bollywood celebrities and politicians embraced his mission and joined in his cleanups.
While he continues to work as a lawyer during the week, Shah now devotes nearly all of his free time to this cause. He said he believes that people must accept responsibility for society's impact on the environment.