This Girl Scout is Tackling Plastic Pollution!
by Anna Wagner
Meet Sofia, a 17-year-old Girl Scout who has become a leader in her community through educating people about and cleaning up plastic.
Greenpeace’s strength has always come from people power. We are made stronger and successful because of the passion and dedication from the supporters who are on our team. We’d like to celebrate one volunteer who recently has really inspired us with her dedication to serving and educating her community.
Sofia, tell us a little about yourself!
Hi, I’m Sofia! I’m 17 years old, and I’ve been a Girl Scout for 12 years. I’m homeschooled — which is something unique that a lot of people don’t know about me. I’m involved in leadership roles in my troop, at my church, and at my work at a bakery in north Hollywood.
What inspired you to get involved in the fight to end single-use plastic pollution?
It started last year with my mom when I came home from church teen camp. She was telling me about plastic and how she was getting involved with Instagrammers who were taking on single-use plastic. She got me involved in the movement and the types of changes being made in California — like straw and bag bans. This inspired me to create change in my community, because plastic pollution is such a big issue. If we don’t do something soon, it could affect our world very negatively. We need to put an end to plastic production first and cut it off at the source.
With the help of my mom and friends, I got inspired to make changes of my own and raise awareness about this issue. Awareness is the first step of action to teaching people about alternatives and ways they can move away from plastic.
What was your Gold Award project?
Bringing awareness to youth in my community — children, teens, and adults — about plastic pollution. I spoke at three different elementary and middle schools and explained how plastic is made, the impacts of plastic pollution, and the ways people could move away from plastic. I also led two cleanups per month from January to May and brought my community together to show how much plastic pollution has made an impact on our community.
I’m bringing awareness to children and my community about how plastic pollution isn’t just elsewhere, like in the oceans and other countries, it’s local too.
After we did the cleanups, we did brand audits to see what companies are producing the most branded trash. We found that plastic pollution from companies like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Frito Lay was destroying our local parks. It was a lot of work to do the brand audit, but it’s super important for encouraging these companies to change.
As part of my award project, I made a video about plastic pollution, how it’s damaging our earth, how it came about, how it’s changed our world and our behavior, and ways we can move away from using so much of it.
What are you proudest of from this project?
I am proud of how this project has inspired people. My mom inspired me to work on plastic pollution in the first place, and it’s exciting to see how much I learned in the process and that I now get to inspire others to change their behavior as well. Seeing the change in my family is inspiring as well — we take out our trash less often because how little waste we create. Inspiring children was great too! I loved when they came up to me and shared how they wanted to change personally.
Were there any challenges along the way?
Rounding up volunteers and promoting my cleanups was hard. Lots of people are busy or just don’t like picking up trash, so getting volunteers to take time to clean up their local neighborhood, park, or street isn’t easy. But with the right tools and help from Anna, on organizer at Greenpeace, I learned how to rally and get volunteers involved!
For example, texting folks personally was the best way to get people involved. You’re asking if they’ll help. It gives them a reason to respond to you. They see how important it is to me, and it lets them know that they actually need to get out there and help take on this issue that’s affecting our community and our world. Posting pictures of our cleanups on Instagram also worked well.
Figuring out which facts to use in my presentation that would most affect and inspire kids was also a challenge. But with the help of several teachers I was working with, they helped me present in a way that was powerful but made sure kids would understand.
How will you continue fighting plastic pollution once your project ends?
Though I did a lot in this project, there are still lots of people who don’t know about why plastic is a problem. So I will definitely continue my cleanups and continue getting more people involved. Though we’ve made a big impact in our local area, I’d love to reach out to other organizations, volunteer groups, and communities. I’ll continue to give people resources for going plastic-free that are easy and cheap. I’ll be speaking more and bringing more awareness on the issue of plastic pollution.
Do you have any advice for new activists?
If you’re going to advocate in your community, get kids involved! If you teach youth, they’ll hold on to that teaching for the rest of their lives. It’s easier to change behaviors when folks are young. Even from the age of five, teaching them gets them thinking about how they can change behaviors. They have such big hearts for animals, who are some of the most affected by plastic pollution, and wanting to save them, and changing their behavior around plastics is a great way they can do that.
Also, if you’re planning cleanups, send personal texts as a way to get people involved!