This Fifteen-Year-Old is Turning the Tide on Plastic Pollution
by Sybil Bullock
Since kindergarten, Hannah Testa has been working to educate and activate her community to take action on ocean plastic pollution. She has delivered presentations to thousands of children and adults across the world on how to reduce their plastic footprint, and even recently made her home state of Georgia declare February 15 as Plastic Pollution Awareness Day! At just 15 years old, Hannah is making waves of positive change. What’s her secret? Read on to find out!
Why is ending plastic pollution so important to you?
Plastic pollution is one of the fastest growing crises in the world today. People don’t realize how much plastics are in our lives, how addicted we are to it, and how much plastics are consuming the planet. When you throw plastic away, it doesn’t really go away, it is a material that the Earth cannot digest. Plastics are having an effect on animals, the environment, and human health. In addition, to produce plastic, manufacturers are consuming the Earth’s valuable resources. What is also alarming is that China recently decided, effective January 1, 2018, to stop accepting recyclables from the US and other countries. With the amount of plastic waste the US disposes of, there is going to be a significant amount of plastic that will end up in our landfills, lakes, and oceans. This should be alarming to us, as much of our recycled plastic historically has been sent to China.
What is the #1 plastic pollution fact you want EVERYONE to know?
The most shocking statistic is that scientists predict that by 2050, the plastic in the ocean will outweigh the fish! This is primarily because there is currently 300 million tons of new plastic produced annually. Approximately a truckload of plastic is added to our oceans every minute!
You’ve been doing amazing things to educate and empower individuals to reduce their plastic footprint. Where do you see your work connecting to ours at Greenpeace, which is aiming to change the conversation from personal responsibility to corporate responsibility?
I believe that we need to alter our relationship with plastic, because we aren’t going to be able to recycle our way out of this problem. There are a lot of issues with recycling, including the fact that not all of our materials that we put in the recycling bin actually get recycled. Our most effective solution is to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, and I have been educating the public on practical ways we can reduce our plastic footprint. This can also involve us as consumers by supporting companies that are conscious about the environment and are making sustainable choices. This can also include contacting companies to suggest ways the company can reduce its plastic packaging. We’ll need several creative solutions, including education and awareness, and involving government, businesses, and citizens, before we can say we have conquered one of the greatest threats to our planet.
How did you get involved with local politics to successfully create a Plastic Pollution Awareness Day? Any pro tips to share with other badass 15-year-olds?
It was easy to reach out to and get engaged with my local representatives. I had developed working relationships with my County Commissioners, and realized at a young age that they are people too. Based on this, I decided to contact my local state senator to arrange for a face to face meeting. It was that easy! I educated him on the topic of plastic pollution, and showed pictures of animals suffering due to ingesting or being entangled in plastics, because a picture is worth a thousand words. I made sure I was fully educated (I obtained all of my facts and data from reputable sources, including 5 Gyres Institute and Plastic Pollution Coalition). At the end of our discussion, I provided recommendations on how we could work together to help the planet. My senator loved the idea of creating an educational event to get the word out about plastic pollution, and we ultimately called it Plastic Pollution Awareness Day. From this platform, I was able to present to all 56 state senators on the senate floor in the Georgia State Capitol Building. Being on this journey has given me more confidence to speak up, whether to CEOs of companies or politicians. At the end of the day, they are all just people, like you and I.
What advice would you give to inspire someone who feels powerless to make a difference in the face of such an overwhelmingly large issue?
You are never too young or too old to make a difference, and it doesn’t matter your race, gender, or what you believe in. If you dream it and believe it, you are halfway there. With the internet and social media, there are many effective ways to make our voices heard. As consumers, we all have voices, and we can all make a difference in our own way. Just today, I sent out letters to over a dozen restaurant CEOs to try to convince them to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics. This may be small, but everyone can do this! If we band together across the world, we can be unstoppable. We just need to care enough to act.
So what are you waiting for? Roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work! Check out Hannah’s website for extra inspiration, and read more about what we are doing at Greenpeace to target plastic pollution at its source. Together, we can all be part of the community of superheroes like Hannah working on solutions to ocean plastic pollution! Join the movement today!