Meet the husband-wife duo who cleared over 10,00,000 kg of marine litter from Mahim Beach
Not glass bottles, not aluminium cans, but the top ten items retrieved from a sea of marine litter were all plastic. And it included cigarette butts, bottle caps, shopping bags, and more.
This was in 2017. International organisation Ocean Conservancy, which has been conducting beach clean-ups for 30 years, collecting 300 million pounds and over 350 different types of trash, made the discovery following its usual audit of the marine litter. They also observed, how it sometimes, takes only minutes for the waves to deposit fresh waste on the ocean shorelines.
The magnitude of this marine debris crisis – an issue that has taken the shape of a global catastrophe with time - hit Indranil Sengupta and Rabia Tewari, the husband-wife duo shouldering the Sisyphean task of beach clean-ups in India, when they first moved to their sea-facing apartment in Mumbai three years ago. The duo has since incepted a social enterprise called Ethico, as they were appalled by the tonnes of oceanic litter strewn over the beach.
A logical step seemed to be alerting the authorities, but when that didn’t work, the couple took upon themselves the task, armed with a pair of gloves and a whole lot of faith.
What started with two people has since grown into a citizen movement today, called the Mahim Beach Clean Up, joined by more than 20,000 volunteers and reaching over a million people by way of social media.
Launched in September 2017, Mahim Beach Clean Up is an ongoing beach clean-up drive that enlists the help of volunteers – including people from the city and visiting foreigners – to rid the Mahim shoreline of marine litter. Since the movement has picked up steam, the volunteers have cleared over 10,00,000 kg of marine litter from Mahim Beach, exposing a shore that was buried under 3.5 feet of plastic and other junk.
“Our effort has galvanised the local authorities who are not only being proactive and accountable now, but are proactively participating and facilitating our efforts at taking the clean-up to the next level in terms of beautification and security,” chimes in the entrepreneurial duo, Indranil and Rabia.
The duo says, through the movement, they have also engaged with the local community and wider society to spread awareness about the hazards of single use plastic and the benefits of reducing consumption and adopting recycling.
“Through direct outreach to local residents including the fishing village that is on our shore, through social media platforms, and by using every media platform that has supported us, we have also reached over one million people,” they add.
In June 2018, the Mahim Beach Clean Up drive was felicitated by the UN Environment Programme for cleaning the beach and beating plastic pollution. The movement has since opened the doors to various other awareness drives as well, one of them being the Opendoor Fest, an initiative that aims to revive public spaces with quality art and music events while making citizens responsible for their city’s landscape.
“So far, the Opendoor Fest has seen active participation from eminent artists like Ankur Tewari, Sidd Coutto, Manasi Parekh, Anurag Shanker, Zeenat and Sameer Kullavoor, Chandana Bala Kalyan, and Sumeet Nagdev,” Indranil and Rabia say.
Tip of the iceberg?
“In the past three years, we have come face-to-face with more garbage than we thought we would see in a lifetime,” says the couple.
“The amount of waste we create is not funny! Week after week of the clean-up brought home the magnitude of the crisis of plastic waste, and what it was doing to our environment, and the urgent need for more sustainable lifestyles.”
While the Mahim Beach Clean Up drive was certainly a step in the right direction, it was still just a small leap towards solving the herculean problem that is ocean pollution. And marine litter, in fact, is just one of the many challenges posing a threat to the ecological balance. Climate change, waste generation, pollution, unhindered human activity – these are some of the greater threats staring us in the face now, as we grapple with the impacts of the coronavirus-induced crisis.
“Never before has the world needed people to switch to sustainable lifestyles more than it does today. The experience of the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown will galvanise people to rethink their lives,” quips the duo.
That something everlasting and bigger than a citizen movement was required to tackle the environmental crisis was amply clear. Indranil and Rabia had already witnessed the change they could inspire with the mass participation in their beach clean-up drive, but it was time to channel all the learning and ideas into a consolidated platform. And this was the birth of Ethico.
“Ethico is social enterprise born out of our experience as the founders of Mahim Beach Clean Up,” says Indranil and Rabia, who have between them over 40 years of experience in the field of marketing, brand, and product management. “It is committed to creating a positive environmental impact on the world,” they add.
Incidentally, Ethico is their second venture. The couple also head design and brand consultancy firm, IS Network, which they founded in 2017 and the profits from which were utilised to bootstrap their social enterprise.
A three-pronged approach
On the Ethico platform, the environment enthusiasts-turned-entrepreneurs follow a three-pronged approach, the first of which involves “understanding the crisis”. As part of this, the platform keeps a tab on content about the environment, climate change, and the whole spectrum of issues that impact sustainable living. This includes curated and original content.
The second part of the approach is “creating consciousness”, which involves stories that help people understand the complex and often polarising topics of climate change and sustainable living. And “mobilising change” is the final part, one that the team has put into motion via their ecommerce section that offers a range of eco-friendly products and services.
“We have partnered with over 40 brands in our ecommerce section to tap into the huge increase in socially-conscious spending,” the founders say, adding, “Our pre-loved section promotes the circular economy that discourages the use- and-throw culture, extending the life of an article so that it doesn’t end up in landfills.”
Shifting to a conscious lifestyle is not an easy chore, and Indranil and Rabia, having made the switch themselves, are well aware of this reality. While they continue to mobilise the masses with their volunteer-driven beach clean-up drive and endeavours like ‘Do your Bit’ – a feature on the Ethico platform that connects other community efforts with volunteers – the founders know the value of incentivisation in fuelling sustainability at large.
“Ethicoins is our way to incentivise our consumers,” they say, letting us in on their clever addition – a point system imagined as a virtual currency.
“At the first purchase itself, Ethicoins are transferred to the consumer, which they can start redeeming after they have reached 5,000 ethicoins,” they add.
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)