Hawaii’s Plastic Beach

Hawaii’s Plastic Beach

By Hannah Testa, age 16, founder of Hannah4Change

The first time I saw the beach, I was enchanted.  I was resting on a beach in Florida and ran my hands through the sand, saying “beach” for the first time.  I splashed in the waves with my dad and said hello to the tiny fish jumping out of the water.  It was right at that moment that I fell in love with the ocean and all of the life that it supports.  However, that beautiful beach I visited as a toddler might not exist by the time I’m a mother.  

Recently, I was visiting Hawaii at Kahuku Beach in Oahu and was shocked at how much plastic washed up along the shoreline there.

Joining my dear friend, Robbie Bond, age 11 and founder of Kids Speak for Parks, and also the hardworking organization called Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, we cleaned up about a half-mile stretch of beach in about 2 hours.  Us kids used handmade screens to filter out the sand and retain plastic particles while other volunteers picked up the larger pieces with their hands.  We collected about 500 pounds of plastic in a short period of time!

What is most sad is that this beach is cleaned often by volunteers, and yet we know the plastic is expected to return.  On one hand, cleaning up the beach seemed frustrating because we know unless we tackle the source of the problem and turn off the tap, plastic will wash ashore again.  But on the other hand, we can’t just leave the plastic there either!

What did we find?  The most common items we saw today were bottle caps, pieces of fishing nets, and toothbrushes.  There were also a lot of unrecognizable plastics.  One of the interesting things I picked up was the bottom of a plastic bottle that had dozens of little bite marks taken from it.  It was apparent that fish were eating from this plastic bottle!  I’m glad I am vegan and no longer eat fish!

In fact, we saw four large sea turtles resting on the beach.  One of them was resting on a big piece of plastic trash.  It illustrated for me that plastics are a common threat to animal species in our oceans.

What didn’t we see?  We didn’t see anything that wasn’t made of plastic because any biodegradeable products had already broken down. The problem with plastic is that it isn’t biodegradable, meaning it can’t be broken down into organic compounds. Instead, it breaks up into small, toxic microplastics that are eaten by fish.

Our dependence on plastic products needs to end if we want to protect our oceans and our beautiful beaches. We all need to see what we can do as citizens and consumers to reduce our plastic consumption, to recycle properly, and to voice our concerns loudly to politicians and business leaders about this growing environmental crisis.

No matter where we live, the health of the ocean affects all of us. By taking the steps to curb our plastic consumption and “turn off the tap,” we can help ensure that future toddlers will have an ocean to fall in love with.

Hannah Testa is a sustainability advocate, international speaker, and founder of Hannah4Change, an organization dedicated to fighting issues that impact the planet. Hannah4Change is a project of Plastic Pollution Coalition.

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Georgia, USA, celebrated its first Plastic Pollution Awareness Day on Feb. 15, 2017, in the state’s capital of Atlanta. The initiative was spearheaded by a 14-year-old named Hannah Testa, founder of Hannah4Change and a youth ambassador for Plastic Pollution Coalition.

An environmentalist since age 10, Testa partnered with Georgia Senator Michael Williams to create Plastic Pollution Awareness Day. Testa created an exhibit that teaches people about plastic pollution, and the exhibit was displayed in the state capital building.

More than 75 groups and organizations supported Plastic Pollution Awareness Day and many were in attendance. In addition to Testa, speakers at the event included Charles Orgbon III, CEO of Greening Forward; John R. Seydel, Director of Sustainability for the city of Atlanta; Ron Slotin, a former State Senator and current congressional candidate; and Jane Patton, Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. 

Watch the live video here.

Let’s work together to leave this great state in better shape for future generations by tackling this issue of plastic pollution. We can change the world. We will change the world.

Hannah Testa

Orgbon commended Testa for her activism around plastic pollution and said single-use plastic can be a “gateway” for others into environmentalism. “Bringing reusable bags and water bottles is a great start,” he said. 

Seydel encouraged attendees to make others aware of plastic pollution through conversations and even cleanup. “Every time we eat with my grandfather at Ted’s, we take a walk downtown,” he said. “We pick up bottles and bags. At 78, my grandfather still picks up trash, and everyone says ‘Is that Ted Turner picking up trash?'”

Use different approaches to bring awareness to the problem, continued Seydel. “If they care about their health, you could tell them about microplastics in fish… Or get restaurant owners on board by talking about how much money they could save by serving straws upon request.”

Reducing and eliminating single-use plastic is core to PPC’s mission, said Patton, who commended Testa’s initiatives. “I want to honor Hannah and the work that has been done to raise awareness and organize young people in the city of Atlanta,” she said. “That work starts with the individual but is very powerful at the community level.”

For his part, former State Senator Ron Slotin said the public supports plastic pollution reduction, and added, “We need to make sure local communities have the right to ban plastic bags.”

Testa spoke to the urgency of the plastic pollution problem. “Most people are unaware about the effects of plastic pollution. 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally per year. Researchers say that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish. If we don’t act now, we might be leaving the next generation with a problem too big to solve. Let’s work together to leave this great state in better shape for future generations by tackling this issue of plastic pollution. We can change the world. We will change the world.”

Take the pledge to refuse single-use plastic. 

Join our global Coalition.