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Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Teenage sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bali have received many honors for their efforts to ban plastic bags. Here they’re seen accepting the 2017 “Award for Our Earth” from Germany’s Bambi Awards.

An impressive phenomenon that’s emerging as climate change threatens communities and plastic waste clogs waterways is the emergence of children and teens as leaders — in particular, young people from developing nations.

Consider this story from National Public Radio [NPR].

“Five years ago, two young women decided they were going to do something about the plastic problem on their island of Bali. And Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

“How young?” asks NPR reporter Michael Sullivan. “So young one of them couldn’t make it to our midweek interview. ‘She’s at school,’ explained 18-year-old Melati Wijsen, talking about her 16-year-old sister Isabel. ‘She’s just halfway through grade 11 and she’s putting her focus more into graduating high school.’

“Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. And when ocean currents carry that plastic to the tourist island of Bali, it’s a public relations nightmare. This video taken by British diver Rich Horner last year pretty much sums up the scale of the problem as he tries to navigate through a sea of plastic just below the water’s surface.

“The two sisters got the idea for Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 after a lesson at school about influential world leaders — change-makers — including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

” ‘My sister and I went home that day thinking, “Well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali?” ‘ Melati Wijsen says. … The answer was right in front of them. Literally. On the beach in front of their home. …

” ‘It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,’ Wijsen says. …

“They went online and discovered that over 40 countries had already banned or taxed plastic bags.

” ‘We thought, “Well, if they can do it, c’mon, Bali! C’mon, Indonesia! We can do it, too!” ‘ Wijsen says. …

“They got some friends together, went online to start a petition and got 6,000 signatures in less than a day, Wijsen says. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. They organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. Especially when they decided to up the ante optics-wise.

” ‘I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike,’ Wijsen says, inspired, she says, by one of the tools used by Gandhi. ‘He also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals, of getting attention, So that was a huge inspiration for us.’

“[The governor did] what any savvy politician would do when faced with two teenage girls threatening a hunger strike. He invited them to come see him. ‘Within 24 hours, we had a phone call and then the next day we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor,’ Wijsen says.

“[Governor] Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sisters to work toward eliminating plastic on the island. … Melati Wijsen says she learned a lot about dealing with politicians. …

” ‘Being 14 and skipping school on a Tuesday because I had to learn about draft regulations and suggestions really was an interesting learning curve for me,’ she says. Dancing with politicians, she says, is like three steps forward, two steps back and again, and again. ‘It’s almost like the cha-cha.’ …

“Just last month, the new governor of Bali announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019, thanks in part to the sisters’ efforts and those of like-minded NGOs. …

” ‘We literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. … This is my No. 1 focus right now,’ she says. ‘It consumes almost every thought in my body. I mean, it’s like a full-time job.’

“Is she obsessed or just focused? ‘A healthy chunk of both,’ she says, laughing, adding that her mother helps keep her balanced. ‘Some days, she’ll just be like, “Melati, take a day off, like go to the beach with your friends and just don’t pick up the plastic, just sit there.” ‘ ” More at NPR, here.

I have to give a shout-out to teachers like the ones who motivated these teens. Can anyone doubt that teachers are important?

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Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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Photo: Kalume Kazungu / Nation Media Group
The Flipflopi dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic being prepared on January 24, 2019, to start its inaugural journey from Lamu to Zanzibar.

I like listening to Public Radio International’s The World because it gives me a window on what’s going on in other countries. People living elsewhere on Plant Earth often know what’s going on in the US, but here most of us have blinders on. It’s as if nothing happens anywhere else unless it affects us directly and immediately.

But all people are concerned about the things that concern us, and many are taking action unheralded in America. Some of the most energetic environmentalists are the residents of poor countries who’ve been most hurt by climate change (see Mary Robinson’s eye-opening book Climate Justice) or who have the most plastic clogging their waterways and beaches.

Consider this story about Kenyans trying to raise the consciousness of their own countrymen and others in Africa.

Kalume Kazungu and Eunince Murathe reported in January at Kenya’s Daily Nation, “The dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic, the world’s first, has set sail from Lamu Old Town and is headed to Stone Town, Zanzibar. … Aboard 16 crew members, all who were involved in the invention of the vessel, will sail south along the coast of Kenya. …

“The Flipflopi’s maiden journey is meant to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. … It is sailing for approximately 50 to 80 kilometres a day whilst simultaneously broadcasting the #Plasticrevolution message to a global audience. …

“The Flipflopi team will make several stops where they will be visiting schools, communities and government officials as they discuss solutions and changing mind-sets concerning plastic wastes and the importance of maintaining a clean environment free of plastics.

“[Dhow builder Ali] Skanda said he is confident that the Flipflopi will assist in raising awareness on the danger of using plastics and dumping them anyhow along the beaches.

” ‘We are set for our journey to Zanzibar. We will be passing through various towns along the Coast where we will be making some stops to educate the dwellers on how they can maintain clean beaches as well as avoiding plastic disposal on our ocean beaches.

“ ‘Through the Flipflopi invention, we hope people around the world are inspired to find their own ways to repurpose already used plastic so as to maintain clean beaches which are free of plastic wastes,’ said Mr Skanda.

“Mr Shafi Shetai, a Flipflopi crew member, said he believes the dhow will serve to reinforce the need for continued adherence to the already existing plastic ban since it demonstrates how the increasing amounts of plastic garbage can affect not only marine life but also the lives of residents and the economy.

“Mr Shetai said apart from the existing ban on plastic bags, the government should also ban other plastic materials used daily including straws since they are also posing a challenge to the environment. …

“The venture is aptly named the Flipflopi Project as the boat was built by traditional dhow makers led by Mr Skanda using thousands of repurposed flip-flops and ocean plastic collected on beach clean-ups along the Kenyan Coast. Limiting themselves to locally available technology and materials, the builders collected discarded plastics, shredded them into small pieces, then heated them and remolded them. They then carved the plastic parts exactly the same way they would do to wood.”

Read more at the Daily Nation, here. And for additional details, check out the UN Environment press release on the topic, here.

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Photo: ABC Rural/ Jess Davis
To avoid using plastic, Allen Short has made more than 3,000 small berry baskets from recycled timber donated by makers of wood veneer.

Many of us have been trying to phase out our use of plastic, starting with single-use plastic, and smart companies are focused on meeting the demand.

Biofase in Mexico, for example, takes unwanted avocado pits and makes things like picnic cutlery and straws that biodegrade sustainably. I was especially glad to hear about Biofase after people complained they hated the paper straws our eco-conscious ice cream place started using — and caused the ice cream parlor to switch back to plastic. As visions of plastic-straw-choked sea turtles danced in my head, I thought I’d better let that shop know there was a better alternative than paper for getting rid of plastic straws.

Farmers, too, are working on ways to reduce their plastic footprint — and save money.

As Jess Davis reported at ABC Rural in Australia last summer, “Gippsland beef producer Paul Crock believes he can go plastic-free, despite being in an industry reliant on single-use plastics.

” ‘Without putting too fine a point on it, meat uses a lot of plastic,’ he said. … Mr Crock said it was needed for health and hygiene. Plus, vacuum packing increases shelf life by up to eight weeks.

“Mr Crock is in discussions with European companies that are looking at plastic alternatives, and he has even floated the idea of casings for meat, similar to what you would find on the outside of a sausage. …

” ‘We want to be remaining ahead of the curve and looking at ways we can minimise plastic.’

“But Melbourne butcher Tony Montesano said there was no easy solution.

” ‘Unfortunately you’ve got to use some [plastic]. You can’t exactly have just a flesh of meat. Where do you put it? You can’t exactly put it in your pockets.’

“Mr Montesano allows his customers to bring their own containers to the deli, but that is not something the two major supermarkets allow. …

“Fruit and vegetables also rely heavily on plastic packaging. Allen Short is doing his part to reduce plastic in the berry industry by making punnets [small berry baskets] out of offcuts from the timber industry.

“He started making the punnets for his neighbour, who grows strawberries near Daylesford in central Victoria, and had so far made more than 3,000. …

“Mr Short approached the Timber Veneer Association, which helped him out with scraps. Now, it deliberately sets aside the offcuts at no cost.

 ‘All these [veneer pieces] were just going into landfill, so now they’re being stacked up and given to us and we’re making full use of them,’ he said. …

“While he hoped more people would get on board with sustainable packaging, scaling up an operation like his for the industry at large would be more difficult.

” ‘We’re not going to change the industry but we’re going to do our little bit. And I can’t help but think that taking someone else’s waste product and turning it into a useful thing is a good thing.’ ” I will add that everyone doing their bit is also a good thing.

Read more at ABC, here.

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Photo: Didem Tali
Seng Super is a co-founder of La Chhouk, a Cambodian creative fashion initiative that makes clothing out of recyclables. The group, which includes gay and straight designers, hopes to both encourage people to reduce trash and also “show people that LGBT individuals are capable of creating beautiful things.”

Never underestimate the power of a creative mind to make something lovely out of something ugly. I remember surprising myself with how much I loved certain luminous oil paintings of factories spewing out air pollution. The sad Depression-era photos of Appalachian poverty also have a certain beauty. These works draw you to them without any undertone of “poverty is good” or “pollution is good.”

In Cambodia, young designers aren’t repurposing plastic to praise it but, you might say, to bury it.

Didem Tali writes at the South China Morning Post, “Members of the recycling collective La Chhouk started with a dress made from brown rice sacks decorated with beer bottle tops and broken CDs which was later worn by a Miss Cambodia runner-up at an international beauty pageant.

“Most visitors to Cambodia are eager to see the ancient temple complex of Angkor or the beaches of Sihanoukville, but there is one sight they may want to shield their eyes from: mountains of plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam boxes. …

” ‘Plastic waste is everywhere,’ says Seng Super, a 22-year-old Cambodian designer. ‘It’s in the streets, rivers, lakes. It’s very upsetting.’

“Seng Super studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. He was born in the 1990s, a time when millions of Cambodians were beginning to lift themselves out of extreme poverty, bringing environmental degradation in its wake.

“For many young and urban Cambodians, pollution is a huge concern. So when it was time to prepare for the university’s annual art show in 2014, Seng Super and his classmates decided to create a project that would challenge people to rethink their wasteful ways. The result, La Chhouk, is a creative fashion initiative geared towards making clothing out of trash and other recyclable materials. …

“Seng Super and his classmates wanted not only to challenge the way Cambodians think of waste, but also capture their attention in the most remarkable and elegant way. Using only recyclable materials they found in the trash, they created several flamboyant dresses of the sort usually worn by traditional apsara dancers. …

“Many people thought the goal was too far-fetched and ambitious – especially as none of them had any training in fashion. That is why the designers named their collective La Chhouk, which means ‘lotus’ in Cambodia’s Khmer language.

“ ‘The lotus is a beautiful flower that can grow in muddy or dirty waters,’ Seng Super says. ‘We thought it was a beautiful metaphor for what we wanted to do with trash and our dresses.’ …

“Last year the members of La Chhouk were given a vote of confidence for what many regarded as a wacky project when Em Kunthong, first runner-up in the Miss Cambodia 2016-17 beauty pageant, opted to wear the dress for the Miss Earth environmental awareness beauty competition held in the Philippines.

“ ‘This dress represents the perfect Cambodian woman,’ Seng Super says … ‘She’s empowered, close to the Earth and strong like a bull. She has the soul of a wild cow, which is a very important element of Cambodian identity and culture.’ …

“Since the creation of that first apsara dress, La Chhouk has gone on to design dozens of other dresses inspired by Cambodian culture and mythology. In a recent project called Saving Wild, they sought to bring attention to animals facing extinction in Cambodia, such as the Indochinese tiger, river dolphins and various bird species. Seng Super designed dresses representing these animals using plastic waste.

“The project is ongoing, and the collective recently held an exhibition in collaboration with the WWF and Tiger Beer.

“The collective’s members still hold down day jobs to pay the bills, and work on their recycled fashion projects in the evenings and on weekends.” More here.

Hat Tip: @BeingFarhad onTwitter

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Photo: South West News Service
Pat Smith, married mother of two, grandmother, and owner of a B&B in Cornwall, cleaned plastic from 52 English beaches in 2018 and is still going strong.

Doesn’t 2019 feel like the year that environmentalism will pick up more proponents than ever? Thanks to activists and journalists, people are really up in arms about the plastic that’s defacing our beautiful beaches and about what fossil fuels and giant agribusinesses are doing to the climate. Humanity seems to take steps forward and then take steps back, but I feel like this is a forward year.

Consider these three anti-plastic, anti-litter stories.

Maddy Foley writes at Inverse about the origins of plogging, which is a “mash-up of ‘jogging’ and plocka uppa, the Swedish word for ‘picking up.’ …

“Plogging first emerged in 2016,” she says, “started — or at least branded — by Erik Ahlström, following his move from a resort town to Stockholm. Ahlström was reportedly struck by the amount of trash he passed by during regular runs — so he began picking it up along the way, often sporting medical gloves. Soon Ahlström was organizing community runs throughout the city, marrying environmental advocacy with sensible amounts of exercise.

“The practice supposedly grew from the long-standing Swedish philosophy of lagom, the Goldielocks of lifestyle tenets. Meaning ‘not too much, not too little.’ Lagom values moderation; it heralds the pleasure of existence, without being seduced by the lure of consumption.

“In plogging, those tenets translate to picking up some trash (not every single piece), while jogging (not sprinting). It’s about being out in the world, while accepting that it’s become a world beset by trash.” More at Inverse.

There’s also a nice story at Public Radio International’s The World about Ripu Dama, a long-distance runner in India who caught the plogging bug and who recently spread the word on a run through Europe.

Marco Werman reports on Dama’s efforts in India, “Dama, who is being called ‘India’s first plogger,’ is spreading a message of physical activity and environmental protection in Mumbai while participating and organizing clean ups — documenting everything on social media @ploggersofindia.

“ ‘I’m a runner. I run marathons and ultras. When you’re a runner and you run in the mornings, the thing that you observe most is trash and plastic. So [members of my running group and I] were already cleaning up individually. In 2017, we came across the term “plogging” and we thought “this is exactly what we do.” It was kind of becoming a global trend.’ …

“Dama hopes to make an impact on the younger generations. … ‘Schoolchildren take it up like fish to water. And that’s been the biggest high out of all of this. When we are doing this activity in our local parks or somewhere and kids see us doing it … they just come and join us and the habits that get inculcated at this young age will last a lifetime.’ ” Listen to the PRI interview here.

But wait! You don’t need to be a runner or a kid.

As Ed Riley writes at the Daily Mail, an English grandmother walked 52 beaches in 2018 cleaning up plastic, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Pat Smith, “founder of the environmental campaign group Final Straw Cornwall, said: ‘Doing 52 beach cleans in 2018 was my New Year’s Resolution and it’s finally done. I won’t stop as our beaches need me.

” ‘A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items. These things are used by all of us and it is shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches. …

” ‘I’m driven to try and protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren, and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that. …

” ‘I grew up in the generation where plastic use was at its worse. … [But] even though it was everywhere, we had no plastic at home — we would walk to the shops or get the bus to get groceries.’

“Mrs Smith said that she was often joined by other volunteers who were determined to keep our beaches clean. But she said not everyone understood, and on some occasions, she would be mistaken for doing community service.

“She said: ‘People don’t understand I’ve been doing this voluntarily. We should all take responsibility for picking up the litter, as well as ensuring we don’t drop litter in the first place.’ ” More at the Daily Mail, here.

If you are ever in Cornwall, you might consider staying at Mrs. Smith’s B&B. She sounds like a good person to know.

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Photo: Sophia Evans for the Observer
The Maidment family in England are focused on making their daily lives as free of plastic as possible and spreading the word at Plastic-Free Hackney.

It seems like only yesterday that a guy in the 1967 movie The Graduate told Dustin Hoffman’s character that his future lay in plastics.

McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ah, yes. Plastics had a future, all right. In the blink of an eye, they have become a nightmare for the planet, refusing to disintegrate in landfills, clogging oceans, cluttering city streets.

There are many things made of plastic that we may always need. I’m thinking of certain medical uses. But what about all the things we use that really don’t need to be made of plastic. Can we make a dent in those? Here’s a family in England that’s trying.

Nosheen Iqbal reports at the Guardian, “Bettina Maidment … is the founder of Plastic Free Hackney, a campaign to rid the east London borough of single-use plastic and has been serious about committing her family to plastic-free, zero-waste living for two years now. First to go was milk cartons. ‘That was an easy switch, we got a milkman.’

“Then came bamboo toothbrushes, swapping out supermarket shopping for the local greengrocer, and making deodorant, cleanser, moisturiser and handsoap at home. She opens her fridge to reveal shelves of glass jars and reusable containers; her larder is stocked with lentils, pasta, porridge and the like, bought in bulk and stored in glass or canvas bags. …

“She is not alone. As public anger grows over the environmental impact of single-use plastic, trying to live plastic-free and more sustainably has become a mainstream concept.

“ ‘There was a huge uptick in the conversation after Blue Planet about how to reduce plastic use and it remains, by quite a margin, the single biggest topic area people call us for,’ says Julian Kirby, lead campaigner on plastics at Friends of the Earth. ‘In my experience, the amount of public concern for this environmental issue is unprecedented,’ he says. ‘It’s been phenomenal.’ …

“ ‘My interest was piqued online and I saw how other people were doing it and slowly started reducing my waste.’ She opened an Instagram account [@plasticfreehackney] to document the process of going plastic-free. …

“For Kiran Harrison, 43, who works as a massage therapist and storyteller in Worthing, West Sussex.the impetus to go plastic-free came around the time her son, now nine months, was born. She visited her local cloth nappy [diaper] library, where parents can loan reusable nappies, and gradually began swapping out the plastics in her home. …

“Support from a fast-growing zero-waste community in Sussex has also helped; a plastic-free, zero-waste food store has recently arrived in Worthing.

“ ‘Some people are cynical about how you can sustain a lifestyle like this,’ she admits, ‘or cynical about making a small contribution when big companies produce so much waste, but I’m not down with the “what’s the point of doing anything, we’re all doomed” brigade – it’s far too apathetic for my liking.’

Harrison’s top tip is to ‘do things gradually so they become a habit. Trying to do everything at once is overwhelming.’

“Friends of the Earth, which established a UK network in 1970, launched its #plasticfreefriday campaign [last] February. … According to a UN report published in June, the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled stands at 90.5% – a figure so alarming that it was declared the winning international statistic of 2018 by the Royal Statistical Society.

“Waleed Akhtar, an actor from London, … uses beeswax wraps rather than clingfilm for his sandwiches and carries a reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, Tupperware and a reusable bag everywhere he goes. … ‘I used to drink bottled water every day, but I did a play called Fracked!, and a monologue in it about the impact of water bottles on the environment kicked it all off for me.’ …

“THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE …
“Use a reusable water bottle …
“Carry a reusable cup …
“Switch to solid soaps …
“Say no to disposable cutlery …
“Brush with bamboo.”

Some of these are super easy to do — like handing back plastic forks and spoons the takeout restaurant puts in your bag. More at the Guardian, here.

For past posts on this challenge, search SuzannesMomsBlog on the word plastic. A sample of articles: a bike path made of recycled plastic in the Netherlands, a plastic-eating microbe, a trash wheel that rounds up plastic on waterways.

This beeswax cling wrap is washable and reusable but quite expensive. I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve tried it.

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