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How We’re Fighting to Eliminate Plastic in California

Insights + Opinion
Ocean Heroes Bootcamp

By Coda Christopherson (11) and Lea Eider (15)

Growing up in a plastic-free home, I was sheltered from the plastic waste crisis. I (Coda) went to a very progressive school that had vegan lunch items, farm animals and ran on solar power. My mom produces zero-waste events and my dad is a sailor, so we're very passionate about the ocean. When I was nine years old, we moved back to Manhattan Beach, California and I started 3rd grade in a public school. This was the first time I really understood that plastic-free living is not the norm; single-use plastics were everywhere, especially in the cafeteria. Once I recognized this problem, I knew I had to make a difference.


Coda Christopherson.

Jeff Gritchen / Orange County Register

I knew that in order to succeed in eliminating plastic straws at schools I would need to educate and enlist my friends and they would need to educate and enlist their friends — just like how social media works. After talking with my friends, I met with my principal, Nancy Doyle, at Grand View Elementary School. I participated in a water assembly (my school is really cool!) to raise awareness and joined the Manhattan Beach Sustainability Youth Council. I created social media channels and began asking people to take the Strawless School Pledge to eliminate plastic straws in schools. I emailed the director of nutrition for my school district and she email me back, approving my request to eliminate plastic straws. It's not that hard to make a change in your community! Now, I'm planning how to eliminate plastics in other school districts in California.

Last year, I attended the 2018 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a global youth summit co-founded by Lonely Whale, Captain Planet Foundation and Point Break Foundation. The bootcamp equips participants with tools to develop campaigns to fight plastic pollution in their communities.

Ocean Heroes Bootcamp has been a great resource and I've learned many important things, especially the power of mentorship and the importance of communication. You need both to succeed and the past six months are proof that I could absolutely not run this campaign by myself. I am so grateful for the mentorship, leadership and support that I've received from Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, my school and my community. Something else I've learned from my experience, is the power of collaboration.

I hope to expand my campaign to other areas of California and the West Coast, impacting as many schools and people as possible. I think it's smart to work with others because you can create a bigger impact and reach a larger audience — plus, it's fun to work with others!

Lea Eider.

Ocean Hero Lea is also working to eliminate single-use plastics in California. I (Lea) am scared for the future of the planet. I don't want to see the oceans ruined in my generation or my children's generation — we can only fix plastic pollution if everyone is conscious of the problem and working together to fix it.

I began targeting local businesses in Arcata, California by sending a poll to local restaurants. I asked the employees of each restaurant if they dispensed single-use plastic straws and if they gave out straws by request. After the word spread, the mayor of Arcata reached out and we arranged a meeting with her and another member of the Arcata City Council. After that, I spoke to the city council at public comment, asking them to ban single-use plastic straws. At the time, the city was forming a Zero Waste Task Force and felt that any future ordinances pertaining to straws and other plastics should be proposed by the Task Force. I applied and got appointed to Arcata's Zero Waste Task Force, and I'll definitely be bringing up the issues of single-use plastics in California. At the end of 2019, we'll be suggesting legislation to the city council and it is my hope that all restaurants in the city will eliminate plastic straws. Unfortunately, it is isn't happening as quickly as I hoped — changing legislation is a lot harder than I'd imagined!

While that process is taking place, I'm working on a curriculum to educate elementary students about reducing their plastic waste. I want to promote reduction and reuse, so a big focus will be on the flaws of the system. As cliche as it sounds, my generation is going to inherit the world, and we should know how to take care of it. I didn't fully realize the impact of single-use plastics, like plastic water bottles until I attended Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. I immediately convinced my parents to get me a reusable water bottle and it was an easy transition that can have a huge impact on our planet. I want to help kids in schools make the same change I did, and if I talk to them while they're young, maybe I can teach them healthy habits that they can continue throughout their whole lives.

I wouldn't have been able to start my campaign if I hadn't gone to the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. With their support and guidance, I learned how to put together a pitch, which guided me when talking to the Arcata City Council, and I was connected with resources and experts that offered help with my campaign.

Collaboration is a skill that I want to further develop. I know that a group can accomplish more than a single person, but I'm used to working alone. I'd like to hear other Ocean Heroes' ideas and thoughts. If we share our effective strategies for eliminating plastic waste, we can help each other with our campaigns, even by simply supporting other campaigns through social media.

It's important to have kids act as voices of our generation — we're going to inherit the world, and we want a say in the world we're going to get. I (Coda) think youth activism is important because kids are the future leaders of the world. Kids are more passionate, imaginative and optimistic than adults, so why can't change come from us?

Ocean Heroes Bootcamp 2019 is quickly approaching. I (Coda) am hoping to learn more leadership and communication skills, as well as opportunities for collaboration. Ocean Heroes Bootcamp 2018 was the first time I ever spoke publicly! I had no idea that I was capable of doing that but the experience gave me the confidence to step up as a leader and create my own campaign. I never want to stop learning, so this next bootcamp cannot come soon enough. I (Lea) hope to learn more ways to utilize social media as a tool for my campaign to increase awareness. I also want to learn how to work with others to make the greatest impact in California. For example, I'd love to expand my campaign but I live in a pretty rural and isolated area so this can be difficult. If I had someone else to help expand it and spread the word, I could accomplish more outside of my community.

The 2019 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp is open for registration here. The three-day event is free to attend, including room and board, for accepted youth ages 11-18 and their chaperones.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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