Waste Free Versova Koliwada

Plasticonomy – A proposal for the first urban village to attempt plastic recycle & reuse

By:  Jai Bhadgaonkar and Ketaki Tare, Bombay61

Bombay61 is an innovative and experimental urban solutions think tank.It facilitates urban design and research projects with public participation as the key idea, creates (and has been deeply involved in developing) experiential architecture and design projects since 2013.

Bombay61 has drafted a project for Versova Koliwada, a historical fishing village in Mumbai. The project was submitted to Shelter Global’s international competition ‘Dencity’ (2016) and won the 1st prize. Shelter Global is an interdisciplinary, not-for-profit organization focused on solving the world’s shelter crisis by providing safe, clean living conditions for everyone. The project deals with a number of critical issues relevant to the Koli community of Mumbai. The Kolis, a fishermen community, are some of the earliest inhabitants of the city, having lived here even before it was named Bombaim by the first Portuguese colonizers. The Kolis of Mumbai have been fighting for recognition and opposing the redevelopment plans of the government. Urbz has always supported Dharavi-Koliwada’s efforts to be excluded from the Dharavi Redevelopment Project.


Panels for International Competition entry for Dencity

Versova-Koliwada, situated along the Malad Creek, is a lively village with 50000 inhabitants that is now classified a slum by the government. Due to the nature of the water current, the solid waste eventually settles on the banks of Koliwada. During monsoon, mountainous heaps of plastic debris accumulates on the coast. As a result, the nearby mangroves get polluted and experience a loss of cross-breeding. The extreme pollution affects the local economy, allied skilled occupations in the hamlet, and fuels ecological concerns.

The proposed four-phased intervention encompasses a number of critical questions and responds to two major objectives: integration and sustainable development. The intervention intends to blur the existing social boundary between the Kolis and the city dwellers, and effectuate integration across various levels: social, economic, spatial and political. This proposal wishes to address the issue of an ‘unseen future’ of these communities by exploring different methods that can sustain their existence and propel it forward in an exemplary environment-friendly manner.

The first phase aims to inaugurate a ‘Knowledge Center’ with the support of the already established Versova Co-operative society. This center proposes to facilitate new activities and services based on the principle of micro-intervention. One of the major pollutants responsible for the coastal and mangrove degradation is plastic debris. The first step of this phase designates focal points for waste collection and segregation. The center would use the skills of the net weavers to make filter screens, suspended 2 meters deep in the creek and anchored along the edge, imitating a water filter system. This ensures uninterrupted movement of fish while creating an efficient method for waste collection. The plastic debris collected from a comprehensive waste sorting would be recycled and repurposed. The technology of ‘Plastic Boats’ will be used to make a ‘Poor man’s boat.’ This is a float which is made of plastic gunny bags with three compartments. They are filled with empty, used plastic bottles and stitched together to make a homogenous mass. Its design and the air in the empty bottles allow it to float, much like any inflatable swim-tube or ring. The proposed floating-island would benefit and prolong the lives of the mangroves and corals. A floating island of a base diameter of 18 m consists of two components: plastic nets made of tied bottles and a wooden board. This technology is presently used to build inflatable tubes/rings for closed system aquaculture.



Illustrations showing capturing waste by installing nets (left), and aqua-culture activities proposed to be carried out using plastic boats (right)

The second phase aims at introducing to the creek a closed system aquaculture, one of the most environmentally conscious methods of rearing aquatic species. This would increase the fish population, help the fishermen in increasing their catch and strengthen socio- cultural and economic sustenance.

 The third phase focuses on uplifting the economy and supporting the fish market by introducing ‘Inland Fish Culture’ where fresh water and ornamental fish breeding would be carried out. The final phase aims at setting up a Fish Processing Industry. This expansion would extend Koliwada’s economic reach to the city, establishing a socio-economic interaction between the two. This phase also includes setting up a restaurant, an aquarium and an information center. Creation of spaces designated for workshops and exhibits of local fish produce like the popular dry fish pickle, especially during the yearly Versova Seafood Festival, are also proposed.

The proposal is envisioned to have a ripple effect across the various Koli communities of Mumbai. The ideas in this project could potentially be duplicated in different Koliwadas with the Versova-Koliwada as a starting point. The interventions in the project use technology as a means to empower local business and strengthen ties both within and outside the Koli community. Finally, the project hopes to erase lines of social division between the city and the ‘slum’, looking at both as one mutually beneficial and interdependent entity.

The team is now looking forward to engaging with the Koli community at Versova to bring the project to life. The main goal of the Dencity proposal is to incrementally develop the existing ancillary industries, stimulate employment, and encourage the germination of more small scale industries. The projects hope to highlight existing skills sets and incorporate clever use of technology to enhance the social, economic and cultural state of the entire village. The following experiments were conducted to understand the effective workability and consequences of the project.

 Experiment 1 – Trash boat prototype

Bombay 61 along with Urbz team successfully experimented with a preliminary design for the plastic boat prototype. Building of the plastic waste boat is the first step for the implementation of the four phased proposal.

Experiment with plastic boat

The technology of ‘Plastic Boats’ will be used to make a ‘Poor man’s boat.’ This is a float which is made of plastic gunny bags with three compartments. They are filled with empty, used plastic bottles and stitched together to make a homogenous mass. To examine the feasibility of the design and to understand the ‘waste’ very well, it was necessary to experiment with the hands on making of the prototype. After weeks of study and cleaning of the waste accumulated on the coasts of the Koliwada hands on, we realized that the waste consists of a maximum percentage of footwear, plastic gunny bags, milk bags, plastic bags and plastic bottles. In the process of making the first prototype we had to wisely choose the materials that we could pack in the plastic bags which will have buoyancy to make it float right. We chose footwear, thermocol and plastic bottles for the task. The prototype was built with the help of locals who are a very important part of the entire implementation scheme. It was made only of waste material entirely.

Experiment 2 – Net filter installation

Phase 1 of the project deals with the installation of net filters at selected waste collection points. The Bombay 61 team along with local Kolis conducted an experiment of installing the net filters at two points in Malad creek. The main objective of this experiment was to analyze the waste accumulation points and pattern. The idea was to use the local skill set of net making and fishing to fish out garbage. The knowledge center, which is part of the larger proposal, will essentially promote and innovate these skills for effective waste collection. We chose two different points in the creek and where we entered during the high tide with a locally made net which was 2m in width and about 50m long. The net was tied to the mangroves on the either end to make it stable and strong enough to withstand the pressure of waste and tidal variation. With the effect of low tide, the flowing waste started to accumulate near the net filters which can be easily collected and taken for further cleaning, drying and recycling.

Local Community installs net in the estuary (left); Net installed across the water channel (right)

After one week of installing the net,

situation after one week of installing the net


The core idea of the project is to develop and create a unique economy around the plastic waste which tends to flow through the creek into the oceans eventually degrading and creating an imbalance in the marine ecology.

This project shall exercise waste collection and management as a tool to create a new economic industry for the local fishermen, which would help empower themselves and other communities. The vision is to make Versova Koliwada a clean and ideal village so that it becomes a model for other neighborhoods/Koliwadas of Mumbai and also to create global awareness about the local issues

The long term goal of the project is to reduce waste accumulation on the Versova coast and to clean up the Malad creek to restore its thriving fish breeding grounds and marine ecology. The project attempts to derive a solution for a global issue of ‘plastic’. The trend of all the waste dumping has exploited these water bodies over the years. The main hurdle in the process that we experienced is to change the attitude of  people, the way they look at the water bodies. Bombay 61 strongly believes that ascertaining an economic value of the waste can contribute in bringing about some transformation in the attitude.

But on the brighter side, the Vesava Koli Jamat Trust (a local fishermen community trust which is responsible for all kinds of community related and development issues) members and the young volunteers of the same community have been very closely involved with the process of experimentation and also in the making of the proposal report. It has been responsible for mobilizing the community to make the project a success. The interest of these locals motivates us and keeps us going! At present Bombay 61 has put up the proposal report to the local government bodies and expects some contribution and involvement – hopefully by next year.





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