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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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