As part of the Sprint, we asked students to tell us about a real-world problem they care about. We were inspired by the range and depth of issues Sprinters shared with us. In honour of World Environment Day, two Sprinters who are passionate about the environment shared their perspectives, each highlighting a different challenge, how to tackle it, and ways to learn more.
Microplastic pollution in our oceans by Yasmin Chelli
Yasmin is an Italian- Tunisian student who loves languages, puzzles, and exploring new ideas. She participated in Sprint #1, which ran for six weeks from early January. Below, Yasmin explains why microplastics are such a big problem..
What is a problem relating to the environment that you care about, and why?
A huge environmental problem we face is microplastic pollution in our oceans. Microplastics are micro particles of plastic waste that have become an omnipotent presence in our environment. Microplastics enter our oceans and water systems through landfill sources and wastewater overflows sourced from domestic instances such as microfibres released when washing synthetic clothes. In our oceans, microplastics harm climate regulating zooplankton and the survival of marine life contributing to climate change and global warming. Our oceans play a huge role in our environment where they absorb 90% of the earth’s heat and 1/3 of CO2 emissions.
To preserve the monumental role our oceans have on the environment we must be encouraged to strive to control this pollutant. A motivation for this can be through the knowledge that microplastics reside in every crevice of our environment and even our bodies. If there is one thing the recent pandemic has taught us is that we do not want unnatural entities roaming around in our bodies. A recent discovery shows that microplastics have also been found in the placentas of unborn babies, which can potentially interfere with their growth and development. Such a discovery exhibits the magnitude of this pollutant and its harm to human life.
What are you doing to tackle plastic pollution?
Plastic waste can take centuries to decompose. To tackle its long-term effects, I have undertaken some simple lifestyle choices:
I make sure to recycle all plastic packaging labelled recyclable.
I have reduced single use plastic waste: these sources of plastic are most abundant and harmful. For example, I have stopped using plastic utensils and single use bags and opt for bags for life and reusable water bottles. In addition to this, bulk buying at the supermarket can reduce the amount of package waste, as well as buying loose fruit and veg.
I wear clothing made from natural materials like cotton rather than synthetic materials, as they tend to last longer and do not expel harmful microfiber waste into water systems when washing.
What are some ways people can learn more about microplastics?
There are so many other ways to reduce plastic waste. Here are a few links to helpful resources:
Managing natural resources by Anna Mukherjee
Anna is a student who enjoys reading novels, writing songs, and analysing potential solutions to real and hypothetical problems.
She joined us for Sprint #2, which ran for 6 weeks from the end of February. Anna is concerned with many aspects of climate change, and gives tangible examples of steps she’s taken in the fields of design, local politics and grassroots activism to make an impact.
What problem relating to the environment do you care about and why?
I care deeply about the environment. From what I have read and researched, we seem to be going through the ‘tragedy of the commons’ right now regarding the overuse of materials and systems that cause ecological and climatic damage. So, it is crucial that we take measures now to minimise the negative effects of human-induced climate change.
What are you doing to tackle resource exploitation?
I’ve been part of many ‘eco-initiatives’ in the past. For example, I’ve been part of the team that introduced recycling bins to my school classrooms. Being awarded the 1st prize by ‘H2O heroes’ and the UNEP for co-designing and co-executing the best water-saving campaign also made me feel like I made a difference. More recently, along with student leaders from other schools, I sent a letter to our local council expressing our desire to put climate action at the forefront of their agenda as well as suggesting some climate action targets. Each of us circulated a petition through our schools and we got hundreds of signatures from each school requesting our local leaders to take the issue of climate change more seriously.
At the moment I’m mainly working on gaining a better understanding of the climate and how it can be affected by technology, economics, and societal norms.
What are some ways people can learn more about the impact of human activity on the environment?
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein – This is a great read and I learnt a lot from it.
The future we choose, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac – I’m currently reading it and it’s been interesting to reframe climate change using the perspective of a climate policymaker.
Talking to my Daughter about the economy, by Yanis Varoufakis– I would recommend reading around the subject of climate change subject with books like this one, which gave me an insight into how economics can affect our climate action.
Documentaries and videos:
There are some great documentaries out there such as The Blue Planet.
There are also a lot of great TED talks where people approach this topic from different perspectives e.g. talks on nuclear power by Micheal Shellenberger or talks regarding nature by the Yawanawá tribe.
More academic talks such as “The economics of 1.5°C climate change” with Prof Simon Dietz are also very insightful.
Accounts on social media:
On Instagram, there are several accounts that aim to inform people on this topic (a quick search will yield several accounts to choose from).
You may also want to follow inspiring environmental activists like Greta Thunberg and Melati Wijsen, who I had the pleasure of interviewing recently.
At the moment I’m partaking in a 3-day event titled ‘Living brightly’ – where I’m being introduced to lots of different perspectives on climate change and the environment.
The week-long STEM conference on plastics that I attended in Newnham College, Cambridge, was also an incredible experience that led me to consider a lot of ideas that I hadn’t come across before and led me to do lots of further research.
I would strongly advise you to keep an eye out and participate in such virtual events and conferences as they are both eye-opening, motivating, and fun. Eventbrite can be a good tool in terms of finding such opportunities.