Powerhouse Event by the Plastics Hub, Global Co Lab Network

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be no barrier for a group of student activists eager to make a change. Thirty students logged onto their computers on October 27th with one common goal: to advance environmental legislation in Congress and their own communities.

A group of student leaders from the Global Co Lab’s Plastics Hub wanted to expand their environmental advocacy work by engaging a larger group of teens from across the D.C., Maryland, Virginia area in the US. The student leaders, already heading up environmental clubs at their own high schools, decided to make a collaborative effort to organize an event through which students could speak up about environmental challenges they want to see resolved.

Together, the For a Strawless Sea at Yorktown HS in Arlington VA, TJ Environmental Impact at Thomas Jefferson HS, Oakton HS Environmental, and Georgetown Day School Enviro Clubs collectively organized a digital Powerhouse Event through Zoom.

Kate Bigley of Oakton High School, explains why she decided to participate in the event. “I wanted to participate in the Powerhouse Event because it was an opportunity to make my voice heard on something I’m passionate about – reducing single-use plastics. It was a unique way to be able to make a change and to better educate myself on the issue, as well.”

In a forty-five minute time period, students sent over ninety digital messages to their congressional representatives and local leaders while watching a short environmental documentary. In addition, they signed over a hundred and seventy petitions that advocated for a range of issues, from demanding justice for the death of Breonna Taylor to banning drilling in the Arctic.

The letters to representatives focused on two pieces of legislation: the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (B.F.F.P.P.A) and the Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act (B.C.P.A). The B.F.F.P.P.A. targets the reduction of wasteful plastic while reforming the broken system of waste management by implementing a series of actions, such as a beverage container refund program and minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products. The Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act focuses on the importance of blue carbon – carbon dioxide that is naturally captured by the ocean and coastal ecosystems. The bill will support federal research on blue carbon, increase protections of blue carbon ecosystems, and lead to a better understanding of its role in advancing climate change goals.

In addition to national legislation, participants advocated for local issues as well. Arlington teens signed a petition supporting the implementation of a plastic bag tax, D.C. teens signed petitions supporting D.C. statehood, and Fairfax teens sent letters to local leaders supporting a plastic bag tax.

Addie Martin, a teen participant from the For a Strawless Sea Club, explains why she believes it is essential that youth communicate their opinions with the government. “We are the future of our generation! The job of governmental leaders is to prepare our world for the incoming generations, so we need to make our voices heard.”

While it is easy to focus on the many negatives happening in the world right now, the participating teens expressed overwhelming optimism for the future. As best said by Addie Martin, “I am optimistic about our future because of the number of people who care for our environment and are willing to take action. Together we can keep fighting for what is right to help our earth.”