Over 500 people who care about the planet descended on Charleston, SC on March 30, 2017 for a unique conference called Breaking Down Plastic. This special one-day event was hosted by the South Carolina Aquarium, 5 Gyres Institute, and the Lonely Whale Foundation. I was in attendance, probably as the youngest person there besides a guest speaker’s toddler! There were attendees from all walks of life and people with various levels of experience with plastic pollution. Attendees represented local, national, and international interests among corporations, governments, non-profits, and schools and colleges, and included politicians, scientists, executives, and consumers eager to engage in addressing the global crisis of plastic pollution.
There were so many enlightening speakers talking about a number of different aspects of plastic pollution, such as the cost of plastic pollution, the effect of plastic on human health, how plastic fishing equipment is impacting the earth’s sea creatures, and how corporations are engaging in innovative and economical sustainable practices. The discussions built awareness, shared best practices and provided new information to motivate action. A common (and daunting) statistic heard throughout the conference was that by 2050, scientists predict there will be more plastic, by weight, than fish in our oceans.
The conference hosts utilized artistry and creativity during the event. As soon as I walked in to the conference, I couldn’t help but be impressed by two large sculptures made of plastic debris, one shaped like a sea turtle and the other a huge jellyfish. There was also an artist who would illustrate the key points of each presentation on a large mural as the speakers were presenting, which was a very creative way to summarize the event and was a big hit among the attendees I spoke to.
I met so many amazing and influential people that are doing incredible things to protect our oceans. I felt humbled to be among this group, and also inspired to continue my efforts to bring awareness to the issue of plastic pollution. For example, I met the Mayor of Charleston, executives from Surfrider and Aardvark Straws, several young volunteers from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and an executive from Cox Enterprises. I also met Adrian Grenier, an actor, filmmaker, and social good advocate who co-founded the Lonely Whale Foundation. The Lonely Whale Foundation is dedicated to bringing people closer to the world’s oceans through education and awareness, inspiring empathy and action for ocean health and the wellbeing of marine wildlife. I had an opportunity to sit down with Adrian after the conference session:
What inspired you to create The Lonely Whale Foundation?
I heard the story of the loneliest whale in the world who speaks at another frequency from other whales, which is like speaking another language. This Lonely Whale has been calling out his whole life, looking for connection. Knowing that whales are very social creatures, just like humans, this story sparked empathy in me, empathy for a species completely different from myself. It made me realize we can use stories to help build empathy, connection, to places and creatures that are different from ourselves or that don’t relate to our everyday experience. I realized this character, the Lonely Whale, could inspire empathy in people around the world. His message is really about connection and communication, so at the Lonely Whale Foundation we use his lessons to help bring people together and help them better understand the natural world.
Why did you choose plastic pollution awareness as a cause?
We are looking for achievable ways that people can participate that aren’t daunting. We are focusing on single use plastic straws because it's something that everyone encounters nearly every day and is arguably unnecessary; people can give them up. If people are struggling to do something because they feel overwhelmed, giving up plastic straws is one simple way they can participate in creating a healthy #strawlessocean.
How do you want to influence the next generation?
The Lonely Whale is a great hero for the younger generation because he has a unique voice, and I hope he inspires the next generation to speak up and speak loudly and embrace their unique perspective. While the whale doesn’t speak the same language, he has very important things to say. Whales, after all, are the keepers of wisdom. They have survived the Ice Age and other events throughout history, and we should pay attention to what they have to say because they’ve been there and know how to survive. If we want to survive, we should listen to our environment, we should listen to the whales.
5 Gyres Institute and I will also be involved in a related conference in May called the Blue Vision Summit. I’ll be a guest speaker at a panel discussion at the Summit in Washington D.C. This is a biennial event since 2004 that draws hundreds of ocean leaders to develop strategies for protecting our oceans and to meet with elected officials to make our voice heard.
For more information, please visit www.hannah4change.org, www.5gyres.org, www.lonelywhale.org, and bluefront.org.
I was one of 11 winners at the National Youth Activist Awards ceremony in Nashville TN on April 2nd, 2017. Youth and young adults from ages 8 to 27 were nominated by the community and awarded in 11 categories. I was honored for my environmental leadership and advocacy.
From their website, www.manupagainstbullying.org: "It's not every day that you see youth coming together from across America being rewarded for their great works and accomplishments. This is what makes the National Youth Activist Awards America's most innovative method of teaching youth the importance of putting their families, education, communities, and environment first.
I am honored to be one of 19 volunteers for the new Advisory Board at the 5 Gyres Institute. From their website, here is what the non-profit had to say about this new team: "5 Gyres is growing by leaps and bounds, and these change makers are helping us to reach the next level. Our entire team is so deeply thankful for their support."
Over the past several months I have worked to get restaurants to consider switching from plastic to paper straws. While paper straws are more expensive than plastic, if you can do these two things you'll likely SAVE MONEY!
1) Buy your paper straws direct from Aardvark Straws (versus a distributor or competitor). If you mention my organization (Hannah4Change), you'll get a deep discount off of the retail price. Buying in bulk will also save you money.
2) Couple your new product with a new policy to only give out straws when a diner requests one. Don't automatically put a straw in each glass! You'll find that about half of your diners won't want a straw.
If you know of restaurants that have made the switch, please let me know. I am distributing window decals to those that make the switch, and trying to feature as many as possible in various online venues.
I had the time of my life and was truly honored and thrilled to have been awarded the Captain Planet Foundation's prestigious award "Young Superhero for Earth". Here is one memorable photo from that night at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. There are more on my Facebook page - Hannah4Change.
One of my philosophies is to not only educate others about environmental issues, but to also provide practical solutions wherever possible. So here are 2 ways you can reduce your plastic footprint in the kitchen.
I just started using a new product that reduces or eliminates the need for plastic wrap! Bee's Wrap is a US company that provides compostable wrap made out of organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. This product is washable and reusable. Check them out at www.beeswrap.com!
I have also been using ECOlunchboxes for over a year now. Their products contain no plastic; they are stainless steel containers that my brother and I take in my school lunch. It allows us to have a zero-waste lunch (unless my mom packs me spinach)! By using their products regularly, you save money too! Check out ECOlunchboxes at www.ecolunchboxes.com.
Here are some pretty easy ideas to be kind to Mother Earth...
1 Place spare reusable bags in your car for groceries you purchase.
2 Bring a reusable water bottle with you instead of plastic.
3 Use stainless steel containers/mugs instead of plastic cups.
4 Carry glass, paper, or stainless steel straws in your car or your purse.
5 Tell your waiter "No straws please" at restaurants.
6 Use reusable bags instead of produce bags when buying fruits and vegetables.
7 Replace plastic food storage containers with stainless steel.
8 Avoid microbeads in face scrub, body wash, and toothpaste.
9 Buy products with less plastic packaging.
10 Support businesses that are pursuing sustainability.
KleanKanteen #kleankanteen ChicoBag #chicobag Aardvark Paper Drinking Straws #aardvarkstraws Simply Straws #simplystraws #plasticpollution
I have loved going to SaveTheHorses, a local Cumming horse rescue farm, for several years. The first time I visited I was struck by how many horses were there being rehabilitated and how much care it cost (people and dollars). The owner, Cheryl Flanagan, has made saving horses her life's work. So at the age of 10 I organized a huge fundraiser for SaveTheHorses that was featured on CBS News. I still love going there and I hope you will go there too.
Another organization I love is called The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This is a large elephant (and rhino) rescue organization located in Kenya. Dame Daphne Sheldrick has made saving elephants her life's work. When the elephants are rehabilitated, they are released back into a protected sanctuary. Each year I adopt an elephant for $50 - it makes a great Christmas gift that keeps on giving - you get monthly updates on how your elephant is doing - and the money is put to good use to care for the animals.
Hannah Testa, Eco-Warrior, and Environmental/ Animal Activist