Lisbon Ferrao, a devoted marketing professional, never imagined that his family’s day at the beach would lead to a lifelong commitment to cleaning up Mumbai’s shores. In 2017, during a visit to Borivali beach with his wife Zsuzsanna and their young children Lucius and Nascha, they were shocked to find plastic strewn across the sand. To their dismay, their kids even started playing with the discarded waste.
“The weirdest thing I’ve found at a beach while cleaning up has been a human skull,” Lisbon reflects. Concerned about the impact this pollution would have on their children’s memories of the beach, Lisbon and Zsuzsanna made a pact. Every time they visited the beach, they would begin by clearing a few plastic bags and bottles and disposing of them in dry waste bins. Their small acts of cleaning caught the attention of their friends on Facebook, but unfortunately, no one turned up when they announced a beach clean-up event.
Undeterred by the lack of response, Lisbon’s family took matters into their own hands. Zsuzsanna rolled up her sleeves, and their kids followed suit, picking up the litter scattered on the sand. They simply documented their efforts with powerful before-and-after pictures; perhaps the Universe heard their heart and the images went viral. Media outlets were captivated by the story, and soon the Ferrao family’s commitment to cleaning the beaches of Mumbai gained widespread recognition.
The Birth of Vasai Beach Cleaners: A Community Takes Birth
With the sudden surge of interest and support, Lisbon decided to formalize their efforts and named their group the ‘Vasai Beach Cleaners.’ What began as a family initiative transformed into a movement. These individuals, whether joining for a day or participating in weekly clean-up sessions, collectively represent a community dedicated to cleaning their city.
Lisbon writes to me, “In 2017 , we started working on plantations. I used to work on my Mother’s plant nursery when I was a teenager. My father and his father were farmers and I grew up to love plants in all forms. I believe every home should have plants; it’s what brings a home to life.
Since its inception, Vasai Beach Cleaners has made an astounding impact, clearing more than 650 tonnes of plastic from Mumbai’s beaches. Their ultimate goal is to create a trash-free environment where animals, birds, and forest ecosystems can thrive. Lisbon encourages new volunteers to approach their work with the intention to learn and enjoy the experience. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the origins and stories behind each piece of trash they find.
Cleaning up the beaches is no small task, requiring careful planning and coordination. The intensity and effectiveness of their efforts, have to be well-coordinated with the weather conditions of Mumbai. Nevertheless, the Vasai Beach Cleaners hold their clean-up events every Sunday from 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM, at Bhuigaon Beach.
Each week, new faces join the regular group of 10 to 15 volunteers, but the garbage they find every week seems to never end! “From backpacks, cement bags, milk packets, fishing nets, ropes, cups, bags, toys, toothbrushes to even medicine bottles, VBCs have collected whatnot,” says Lisbon. He believes that even though the work is demanding, it should also be enjoyable, and volunteers are often provided with homemade snacks and fruits as refreshments that are either self-funded or by some other Earth savior organizations. Even though consistent funding remains a persistent obstacle, yet Lisbon and his family remain steadfast in their mission to clean the city’s beaches.
Trash is Transforming Waste into Paver Blocks, Planters
Lisbon Ferrao and his family realized that the trash they collected from the beaches often ended up in landfills or was burned, defeating the purpose of their efforts. So Lisbon teamed up with a commercial unit in Vasai to shred the plastic into a powder that could be used to create paver blocks. In addition to paver blocks, Lisbon also crafted planters from recycled plastic powder. To date, he has sold 150 planters to nurseries, breathing new life into discarded materials.
Partnerships that Propel Progress
In 2022, a glimmer of hope emerged when eyesea.org, an NGO based in New Zealand that focuses on mapping plastic pollution worldwide, expressed interest in supporting Lisbon’s beach clean-up efforts. Since then, eyesea.org has covered the expenses associated with cleaning drives, and providing gloves and equipment for the volunteers.
Lisbon passionately asserts that even the smallest actions, such as picking up a single piece of plastic or recycling, can have a profound impact on the planet.
What do the Volunteers Have to Say?
Lisbon Ferrao and the Vasai Beach Cleaners ‘ inspiring journey serves as a reminder that caring for the environment is not an individual duty but a shared responsibility.
Ravi Kumar shares his experience, “When it comes to beach cleaning, the general perception revolves around picking up beach litter like chip packets and plastic wrappers. I too shared this belief when I joined the Vasai Beach Cleaner in 2019. However, my experience proved otherwise. Although litter was present, it constituted a small fraction of the waste. Surprisingly, the majority of the waste comprised household items such as milk packets, bags, shoes, stationery, mats, and even medicines etc. This realization made me understand that simply using dustbins for waste disposal is not enough. The underlying issue lies in our excessive consumption habits, which need to be addressed to tackle the problem effectively.”
Parish Patel writes to me via Lisbon, saying, “I have always been a nature and animal lover, and because of that I have been part of various activities which help save nature and when I came to know about the Ferrao couple with their kids cleaning the beaches of Vasai, I contacted them and have joined their movement towards a clean and safe environment for everyone around. My experience has been very good; so far we have cleared tons of garbage from beaches, and have created awareness among people by our actions. But we all know that it’s a long way to go, and hope more and more people will join in this movement, which is for our own good!
But then in India’s 1.4 billion plus population, what is the exact number of people that thinks cleaning and preserving, the environment is their first job? Do we have any statistics – The Think Pot asks in unison with Lisbon!
As Lisbon and his family continue to make a difference, they encourage others to join their cause, even if only for a day. Through their work, they hope to rekindle the joy of pristine beaches for future generations, ensuring that the shores of Mumbai become a haven for both humans and nature once more. With determination, resilience, and a touch of hope, Lisbon Ferrao and the Vasai Beach Cleaners prove that a cleaner and greener future is within our reach.
And Lisbon Is Not Stopping Here! Project ‘Green Dharti’ has arrived….
Lisbon shares, “I used to work for an MNC many years ago and while there I spent a lot of my time working for the company and its success. I got promoted really fast and collected awards in all functions. I believed then this is what success felt like but that was a false notion. Success is creating a legacy and people remember for who you are and what you did. So, I am not sure how successful my actions would be on the environment. I always feel I am not doing enough but I don’t want to grow old and feel I didn’t try. So to push things further I started a project called Green Dharti. This is an initiative to spread greens and recycle.”
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