How a 15-Year-Old Spoke on the Senate Floor for Plastic Pollution Awareness Day

By Hannah Testa

I was anxiously sitting in the waiting room adjacent to the senate floor in the GA State Capitol Building in Atlanta.  I can hear the chitter chatter of senators and the hustle and bustle of lobbyists, government employees, and citizens in the hallway. It is very chaotic and busy at the State Capitol! My dad was luckily sitting next to me, trying to keep me calm, and one of my friends and mentors, John R. Seydel, the Director of Sustainability with the City of Atlanta, was also there to support me.

The day is Feb. 15, and it is also called Plastic Pollution Awareness Day in Georgia. I was able to work with Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock to declare the day as Plastic Pollution Awareness Day.  This is the second consecutive year for this event, with the first declared last year with Senator Michael Williams, my local senator. This year’s event brought some new challenges, because this year I worked with a Democratic senator in a Republican state, whereas last year I worked with Republican Senator Williams.

Waiting to address the state senators, I was more nervous than usual. I speak in public often, and have spoken to up to 1,000 people at a time, but I was extremely nervous this time.  I had butterflies in my stomach and my heart seemed to be beating much faster than normal. My dad was trying to distract me and told me to make sure to adjust the microphone when I get on stage. I think he told me two or three times because he thought I wasn’t listening. Then I received two texts from my mom, who decided to go upstairs to watch me from the gallery, telling me to make sure to adjust the microphone. And seconds later, John R. Seydel walks over to me and tells me that I can adjust the microphone if needed.  The humor in this made me feel a bit better.

I also felt better when I saw a friendly face. Senator Williams got up from his seat and came over to hug me. As I mentioned earlier, we partnered last year to establish the first ever Plastic Pollution Awareness Day. He was beaming from ear to ear like a proud papa.

As the Lieutenant Governor told us to come onto the stage behind the podium, I looked up in the gallery, and there was not one empty seat. I saw my mom smiling and brother waving, which comforted me.

I stood behind Senator Orrock, who read the resolution in front of all 56 state senators. She then introduced me and gave me the podium. I was so nervous that I honestly forgot to adjust the microphone!

I knew I had 2 or 3 minutes to knock the socks off each of the senators! I looked out into the audience and saw many of the senators talking among themselves. However, as I spoke from the heart, the room got quiet as the senators started to listen intently. I then thought to myself, as the words were flowing from my voice, “How many 15 year olds get to speak on the senate floor?”

During my speech, I tried to plant a seed that government, businesses, and citizens need to work together to solve our most daunting environmental challenges. I stated some alarming plastic pollution statistics and saw a few senators nodding and others that looked surprised. And I looked over at Senator Williams, who was still beaming.

As I ended my speech, I had a flashback to a year earlier when I wasn’t allowed to speak on the senate floor because the plastic industry’s primary lobbying organization tried to stop the event. 

As I ended my speech, I had a flashback to a year earlier when I wasn’t allowed to speak on the senate floor because the plastic industry’s primary lobbying organization tried to stop the event. They saw me as a big threat. However, we reached a compromise and the day turned out great, but I wasn’t able to speak on the senate floor last year. 

I was aware that I was given a huge opportunity to address the senators and I wanted to end on a high note, so I confidently declared, “We cannot control the past but we can focus on the present to mold a better future for our children, our grandchildren, and beyond. Let’s continue to work together to educate our citizens and find practical solutions for a better Georgia and a better planet.”

I saw smiles from nearly everyone as each senator clapped. I saw my mom and brother also cheering from the gallery. I felt relieved and energized at the same time, then felt my heart fill with pride as I turned to my dad and saw a tear in his eye. Senator Nan looked really proud of me too, and handed the signed resolution over to me. We posed for photos and plenty of people, including the photographer, told me how amazing my speech was.

When we had a quiet moment, we posted pictures on social media and sent them to the PR team that was helping us. The PR team updated me that news of the event was picked up by several TV stations and was seen by hundreds of thousands of Georgians.

That thrilled me because after all, getting the word out about the harmful effects of plastic pollution to as many people as possible is what this day is all about. Hopefully those that hear my message will start to make a change in their daily lives. Hopefully we’ll start to alter our relationship with single-use plastics because we aren’t going to be able to recycle our way out of this problem. Hopefully we’ll start to see a dramatic reduction in our plastic consumption, because plastic is not a material the earth can digest.

With fingers crossed, this event will lead to more awareness, education and events like this in other states. I also hope this event will lead to increased plastic pollution protections in Georgia and beyond.

After hearing my story, I hope it inspires you that anyone can make a difference at any age. While I may have led this event, this initiative wouldn’t have been possible without the support of an entire village of supporters. I’d be happy to be part of your “village” to stand up and make a difference. 

As a result, if you’d like to spearhead your own Plastic Pollution Awareness Day in your state, I posted advice, tips, and the necessary steps on my website, www.hannah4change.org. You may run into challenges, but pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and keep moving forward!

Hannah Testa is a 15-year-old honors student from Cumming, GA, a PPC Youth Ambassador, and the founder of Hannah4Change.

See also: 15-Year-Old Hannah Testa Spearheads Second Annual Plastic Pollution Awareness Day

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Environmental activist Hannah Testa, age 15, founder of Hannah4Change, partnered with Georgia State Senators for the second annual Plastic Pollution Awareness Day on Feb. 15, 2018. Hannah, a PPC Youth Ambassador, has used her voice to speak up for animals and the environment since kindergarten. 

In preparation for the second annual Plastic Pollution Awareness Day, Hannah worked with Georgia State Senators and environmental advocates Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) and Renee Unterman (R-Buford) to develop and co-sponsor a resolution which educates Georgians about the growing plastic pollution crisis. The resolution was read on the Senate floor on the morning of Feb. 15, and Hannah delivered an impassioned speech to all 56 senators about the need to continue to work together to solve the planet’s most daunting challenges.

“The average American uses 500 plastic bags each year, and the U.S. uses 500 million plastic straws each day that end up polluting our oceans,” said Hannah, whose goal is to educate her community about how simple changes can greatly reduce the state’s plastic footprint on the earth.

Her call to action is for Georgia residents and businesses to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic products and switch to reusable bags at the grocery store, reusable water bottles, and using paper, glass, or stainless-steel straws at restaurants.

“We are honored to support Hannah as she takes Plastic Pollution Awareness Day and turns it into a call to action,” said PPC co-founder and CEO Dianna Cohen. “Bravo, Hannah!”

Senator Orrock called Hannah an example of a caring citizen taking action. “Our Plastic Pollution Awareness Day is an effort to step up the education of the public and show people how they can make a difference. I want to encourage and support young activists like Hannah who bring their talents and commitment to protect our planet for future generations.”

See also: 14-year-old Hannah Testa Initiates Plastic Pollution Awareness Day

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PPC notable supporter Tom Petty, the legendary rocker best known as the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, has passed away at the age of 66 in Los Angeles, CA. Petty leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of musical accomplishments and charitable work for people and the environment.

Earlier this year, Petty received the 2017 MusiCares Person of the Year award and gave this statement to Plastic Pollution Coalition: “Being human, I reckon the loftiest goal is to be remembered fondly and leave something better behind than when I got here…. Long story short: if we avoid all the toxins spreading all around us, those actions and educated awareness will help us to leave behind a far safer world for future inhabitants,” he said.

Petty’s songs were beloved by millions with hits like “Refugee,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Free Fallin’ ” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” He sold millions of albums and headlined arenas and festivals into 2017. He entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of PPC, called the loss of Tom Petty shocking and tragic. “We remember our incredible friend and ally Tom Petty and send love and our deepest regrets to his family and bandmates at this difficult time. The themes of strength and resilience in his music resonate with people all over the world and make up the soundtrack of our lives. As part of our global movement, Tom Petty set an example with his plastic-free touring initiatives and generous support of our mission. His voice will be deeply missed.”

Tom Petty Says ‘We’re Too Smart for Single-Use Plastic’

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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.”

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