Combining Science and Society to Tackle Environmental Issues
Born in Japan but raised for five years in Indonesia, encountering life in the developing world firsthand greatly influenced my values and broadened my perspective. Encountering the reality of global issues in Indonesia was shocking for a Japanese girl who had never directly felt the impact of my environmentally unenlightened actions. I still remember a shocking amount of plastic waste I saw on what used to be a beautiful coast on what was supposed to be an idyllic visit to the seashore. The sight of families doing dishes in the polluted waterways near their house is still burned in the back of my mind. These memories drive my passion for environmental protection, especially in alleviating plastic pollution.
Plastic is an important material in our modern world because of its hygienic properties, lightness and durability, and cost-effectiveness, making it a highly versatile product. However, these benefits have produced a widespread culture of single-use plastics, where the materials have a product lifespan of minutes, but they stay in the environment as waste for hundreds or even thousands of years. 12,000,000 tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year because of the lack of waste management infrastructure, convenience, cost, lack of awareness, and illegal activities. These plastic wastes that end up in the environment cause much ecological damage, such as harming marine life, endangering marine biodiversity, and leading to negative health impacts when consumed by humans. 100,000,000 animals die from plastic waste each year, and this statistic alone can communicate the serious damage of plastic pollution. Even if plastic waste is incinerated instead of being accumulated in landfills, it accelerates global warming by releasing greenhouse gasses. While there is now widespread recognition of this problem, there is no consensus on how to effectively deal with it - what are substitutes which share many of the same benefits of plastics but without the environmental costs, and what to do with the extant plastic waste already in the environment, how to reuse or recycle plastics that cannot be easily substituted, and how to fund all of this? This difficulty in dealing with the issue is seen in how only 9% of all plastic wastes ever produced have been recycled due to complexity, contamination, lack of infrastructure, economic viability, and lack of consumer awareness.
While individual municipalities, regions, and some countries have taken some creative and effective measures, these efforts remain piecemeal. Meanwhile, plastic waste continues to accumulate in the environment.
Previously, I was interested in social approaches to improve life in developing countries, and I have launched an NGO to educate children in poverty, as well as a TED-Ed Student club at my school to encourage youth empowerment. Having developed an aptitude and academic focus on science, I am especially interested in making scientific approaches to alleviate plastic pollution, because I am strongly inspired by the power of science in making a significant change in environmental issues. I have already begun this journey, having worked on scientific research about plastic biodegradation, and doing internships at university labs tackling environmental issues.
My goal is to activate youth and stimulate collective action, especially in developed countries where youths have a greater ability to change their actions. I will do this by developing my youth-led platform, Youth FACES, and raising awareness about the threats of plastic pollution, delivering voices of affected communities, discussing scientific research and social attempts to solve the issue, interviewing experts or politicians, and sharing what viewers can do. The name Youth FACES stands for "Youth For Action to Conserve Eco Systems", and it has two meanings: Youth bravely FACING the big global issue of plastic pollution, as well as "putting a face" on plastic pollution. "Putting a face" means to make something clearer, so through our activities, we hope to put a face on plastic pollution to activate youths to face plastic pollution.
Since plastic pollution is a multi-dimensional issue, my initiative tackles the issue from three different strands: economic, social, and technological. Educating people about the connection between economic gaps and environmental issues, as well as the connection between technological advancements and solutions to environmental issues, will always be at the heart of my activity. In addition, economics is at the core of this problem, and therefore I intend to address that issue as well.
After education, however, I also intend on doing some activities that empower youth to take action, because everything I communicate through my platform will be for the youths to take action. These activities include:
Local, Regional, and Global Beach Cleanup
Bioplastics development competition
Plastic waste design competition (inspired by the Archeoplastica project)
Educational Kamishibai (Japanese traditional picture book) making workshop
I believe that my approach is effective because it tackles the three gaps in addressing environmental issues, which I have personally felt in the process of taking some actions:
Scientific approaches and collective action.
Collective action and corporate/government policies.
The developed world and developing world.
These gaps need to be bridged in order to make a change, and my plan would bridge these gaps by making the audience realize the importance of both scientific and social approaches to solving environmental issues, and also by delivering the reality of developing countries to the citizens and organizations of developed countries.
Having seen this issue from both a developed and developing world perspective and a scientific and social perspective, I believe I am fit to make this happen.
Only through united grassroots efforts will governments truly take notice and action to finally reduce our dependence on plastics and find alternatives to benefit humankind.
“Plastic Pollution | Definition, Sources, Effects, Solutions, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Jan. 2023, www.britannica.com/science/plastic-pollution/Plastic-pollution-in-oceans-and-on-land.
Plastic Free July. “Plastic Pollution Issues | the Problems With Plastic.” Plastic Free July, 2 Dec. 2022, www.plasticfreejuly.org/the-plastic-pollution-issues.
8 - 12 MILLIONS TONS OF MARINE PLASTIC POLLUTION PER YEAR. www.oceansplasticleanup.com/8_Million_12_Tons_Plastic_Marine_Pollution_Per_Year.htm.
“100+ Ocean Pollution Statistics & Facts 2023.” Condor Ferries, www.condorferries.co.uk/marine-ocean-pollution-statistics-facts.