Angels of Mumbai: How two teachers in Andheri are packing a punch against plastic pollution

Mumbai: Dressed in colourful ridas, two teachers — Farida Bhopalwala (39) and Arwa Colombowala (39) — go door to door every weekend into the Bhandarwada slums in Marol, Andheri, highlighting the devastating impact of plastic pollution in the oceans and on our lives. For the last two years, the two Dawoodi Bohra women, along with their children and a handful of other volunteers, have made it their mission to make households in their vicinity segregate plastic waste and stop them from reaching the landfills.

Taking the initiative ‘Turning the Tide — Against Plastic Pollution’ further the two women have not only made residents of their own housing societies, but several other buildings in Marol segregate, clean and drop their plastic waste in a separate bin installed by them every week. So far, the group has managed to cover 100 odd households in the thick Bhandarwada slums.

What started as a part of Dawoodi Bohra community’s global initiative ‘Project Rise’, ‘Turning the Tide Against Plastic Pollution’ movement kicked off in 2018 in association with noted environmental activist and lawyer Afroz Shah, which included cleaning up the Mithi river and other water bodies in the city, educating people to avoid single-use plastic, and adopting a more sustained lifestyle.

Angels of Mumbai: How two teachers in Andheri are packing a punch against plastic pollution

The two women, however, took it upon themselves to look deeper into the problem, research and eradicate the very root cause of plastic menace in the city. The first thing they did was to start the initiative from their own households.

Farida and Arwa studied the process of plastic segregation and recycling and tied up with Bisleri — Bottles for Change initiative for recycling the plastic collected by them. “We gathered in our masjid complex in Marol and reached out to other community members in the area and urged them to segregate plastic waste regularly. We installed bins in our society, where people drop plastic waste, which is collected by Bisleri every week for recycling. We are all responsible for plastic pollution, but by working together, we can turn the tide against plastic pollution,” Farida said.

“It is very human to choose the easiest option available, throwing plastic in the dustbin along with other waste is our easiest option. The difficult one is to segregate plastic, clean it and dispose it off in a separate bin to be sent for recycling. Difficult, but beneficial for our future is what we thought. Plastic pollution is choking our marine ecosystem, wildlife and human health and is also directly making an impact on our lives. It’s time we choose the difficult option and make it our habit,” said Arwa.

After counselling the slum dwellers in Bhandarwada, the duo and their volunteers managed to collect 300 kg of plastic waste during five to six months before lockdown. They plan to extend it further and are working to cover entire Bhandarwada slum which roughly has 2500 households.

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