It’s easy to become discouraged by today’s environmental issues. The world is so large that creating change feels like steering a battleship with a bad rudder.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Just like we took a stance on plastic, polluting cutlery and created 100% biodegradable spoons and forks, these kids under 19 years old are making things happen before they’ve even graduated high school. They give us inspiration that we can all make changes to live a less wasteful lifestyle.
The Elephant In the Room
Anyone reading an article with this title will immediately think of Greta Thunberg. She’s a courageous activist, especially in the face of hateful backlash. She’s charismatic, driven, and you can read all about her in places like TIME magazine and on BBC.com. She even has an upcoming TV series.
But for the purposes of this list, we want to focus on less-famous — but still incredibly inspiring — youth leading the way.
6 Inspiring Kids Doing Their Part
1. Gitanjali Rao, Water Wizard
Seventh-grader Gitanjali Rao won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her work on water safety testing. In the contest, she designed an affordable and portable device to test drinking water for lead contamination. It pairs with a smartphone app that analyzes the results in real time and lets the user know whether or not water is lead-free.
Rao was inspired by Flint, Michigan’s water problems. With her $25,000 in prize money, she intends to perfect her invention and make it a reality. She is currently hard at work to bring Tethys (named for the Greek goddess of clean water) forward as an affordable and available commercial product.
2. Fionn Ferreira, Ocean Cleaner
In early high school, Fionn Ferreira became concerned about ocean microplastics — bits of plastic less than 5 millimeters in length capable of passing through fishing nets and filters. This makes them very difficult to clean out of the water or to filter out of water supplies. They pose a serious environmental threat that grows with each passing year.
Ferreira got his idea from reading about using iron oxide to clean oil spills. He applied similar chemistry to using magnetite to remove 85% to 92% of microplastics from water.
This project netted him first place and a prize of $50,000 at the 2019 Google Science Fair. He is now meeting and working with scientists and engineers to scale up his discovery for widespread application.
3. Ryan Hickman, Recycle Rescuer
Ryan Hickman got his start as an environmentalist by joining his father on trips to their local recycling center when he was just a toddler. While still in elementary school, he took that interest to the next level by starting his own recycling business: Ryan’s Recycling.
As of this writing, Hickman’s business has returned 798,000 cans and bottles, recycled 113,000 pounds of other materials, and donated more than $10,000 to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Hickman is putting the rest of the proceeds toward a college fund. He has made appearances on multiple YouTube Channels and even “The Ellen Show” to dare others to help make the world a greener place.
If someone this young can do so much, what can the rest of us accomplish?
4. Melati and Isabel Wijsen, Bag Ladies
When sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen were 10 and 12 years old, they read an article about Rwanda banning polyethylene bags. Inspired by such meaningful action in a country not known for their environmental activism, they campaigned to get their native Bali to create a similar ban. For years, they hosted beach cleanups and led petition drives until Bali banned plastic bags.
But they weren’t finished there. By the time they accomplished their initial goal, their movement had established such momentum it had gone international. Their work has directly inspired similar measures, laws, and efforts in 15 countries around the world. Although Melati and Isabel are now in their early 20s, their journey began when they were just entering adolescence, so they still qualify for this list.
5. Ann Makosinski, Power Player
Ann Makosinski has been worried about clean power since early childhood, she and resolved to do something about it. At age 15, she invented a flashlight that draws its power from the heat in the user’s body. The invention has the potential to drastically reduce battery waste and made her the second Google Science Fair winner on this list.
Shortly afterward, she invented a product called the eDrink, which wraps around a cup of hot or warm fluid. It cools your beverage by wicking away the heat and converting the thermal energy into electrical energy, which you can then use by plugging your mobile device into the eDrink module.
Now entering adulthood, Makosinski is discussing her inventions and her next ideas with a number of major international brands. She hopes to partner with them and make these clean power alternatives available worldwide.
6. Cassandra Lin, Grease Girl
In fifth grade, Cassandra Lin learned about biodiesel, a means of turning used cooking oil into fuel that runs internal combustion engines. Caught up by this far greener and less destructive alternative to petroleum, she started in her local community by talking local restaurants into donating their cooking oil.
But she wasn’t done there. She turned those initial steps into Project Turn Grease Into Fuel, which encourages restaurants to donate used cooking oil to seven charities. It then organizes the conversion of this cooking oil into biofuel and donates that biofuel to families in need of heating assistance. To date, the organization has donated over 57,000 gallons of fuel to families, and Lin has won a number of environmental awards.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Dozens of other kids are making a global impact all over the planet. More importantly, even more youths are working hard on the local and regional scale.
They might not make international headlines, but the difference they make in their own home towns is inspiring. And you can help too! By taking simple steps and making subtle changes - like swapping out all plastic cutler with TwentyFifty 100% Compostable Cutlery - you can help #bethesolution.___________________________________
James Hogue is a freelance writer on the West Coast. He has written about a number of amazing children and young adults over the years.