Monday 8th June

| BY Paul Toner

Ten’s Teen Activists: On World Oceans Day, We Present Kids Against Plastic

You can tell a lot about a person by what’s plastered on their bedroom wall, what sits on their bedside table or even by what they leave lying around on their floor. For a teenager, their bedroom is an extension of who they are – or who they want to be. Often with a ‘Keep Out’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign scribbled on their door, teens can lock themselves away from the outside world within their own personal sanctuary, where their every need is catered for. For Issue 64, we commissioned the photographer Jermaine Francis to explore these mini universes. The inspiration was Adrienne Salinger’s ‘In My Room’, a seminal photo book from 1995 that journeyed though a selection of teen bedrooms in upstate New York. Salinger found her subjects in shopping malls and restaurants, as well as through friends, resulting in a perfectly imperfect chorus of adolescent youth to photograph in their as-yet-uncharted territories. The only rule in place before Salinger’s arrival was that the teens were not to tidy their rooms, no matter how messy they were.

Comparing then to now, the sentiment remains that no two of these personal palaces look-alike, although for today’s teens, bedrooms are no longer dedicated to their favourite boyband member or celebrity crush. All over the country, the function of a teenager’s bedroom has evolved. Within their four walls, the modern-day teen is able to plot how they will make tomorrow brighter, both for themselves and the marginalised groups that surround them. From the climate-change warriors and LGBTQI+ activists, through to young migrants battling for their right to belong, teenagers simply can no longer wait for the government to assuage their fears for the future. In celebration of such titans, we trekked up and down the country to the bedrooms of 10 teens who are taking matters into their own hands. On World Oceans Day, we present Amy and Ella Meek, the brains behind Kids Against Plastic.

At the time of writing this, sisters Amy and Ella Meek, the founders of Kids Against Plastic, have picked up 69,407 pieces of littered plastic up and down the country. Their goal is to collect 100,000 pieces of single-use plastic to highlight the reported 100,000 sea mammals that die each year in polluted waters. A mammoth project in itself, this is only one of many initiatives the pair currently has on the go. The remarkable sisters have spoken for Greenpeace and Tedx, and have inspired a gaggle of local businesses, councils and schools to become “plastic clever”.

“We are very proud of our Be Plastic Clever scheme and the fact that an increasing number of schools are signing up to it,” say the sisters. “We have over 700 already!” Alongside their own stamp on making Planet Earth’s future brighter, the girls have inspired a legion of followers across the country who are doing their bit to change the world, one plastic bottle at a time.

When did you first feel like you were activists?

“When we first learnt about the issue of plastic pollution we were unaware of its impact, and decided to start Kids Against Plastic as our small effort to make a difference about this huge issue. It was a steep learning curve for us but we felt so passionate about it that we knew we had to take action and tell everyone else – this was the point when we felt we had become activists, because we wanted to educate the rest of the world.”

What cause do you advocate for?

“We advocate for a more discerning use of plastic and, through awareness, we hope that everyone will attempt to replace single-use plastic with reusable materials. We also work to inspire more young people to take action for what they believe in, as we believe young people have a powerful voice that we need to use!”

What pushes you to keep on campaigning for your cause?

“Plastic pollution is a problem that isn’t going to go away quickly. If we don’t all make changes to reduce our plastic usage, it will continue to get worse. We are the generation that is going to inherit this problem, and so we know that in order for the planet to be healthy and inhabitable, we need to take urgent action now.”

What’s your favourite thing in your bedroom?

EM: “The view out of my window.”
AM: “My books!”

Do you make your bed every morning?

EM: “No.”
AM: “Not often enough.”

What can young people do to make the world a better place?

“Everyone can make small changes to their lives, such as by becoming ‘plastic clever’. We all need to try to avoid single-use plastic by using reusables. As we become aware of the problem, we need to spread the word and get our voices heard. But we also encourage other young people to use the unique youth voice they have to make a change about something they’re passionate about. We often underestimate the impact we can have as the youth. Just starting small and tackling something in your local area can have a big, positive impact.”

Which fellow activists inspire you and why?

“Isabel and Melati Wijsen were two of our inspirations when we first began our campaign. They were our age when they set up Bye Bye Plastic Bags, their campaign that got plastic bags banned on Bali!”

What do you want to see change about the world in 2020?

“More urgent action against climate change and plastic pollution at government and corporate level.”

Portrait by Jermaine Francis. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – available to view for free here.