Tomorrow, visitors will gather in the Georgia State Capitol building to celebrate the first annual Plastic Pollution Awareness Day—an occasion that will encourage people to cut down on plastic consumption. Artists, speakers, and environmentalists will speak out about the importance of low-impact living as February 15 is officially declared a state holiday the Senate floor. The day will culminate in a presentation by the impassioned activist who made it all happen—an eighth grader named Hannah Testa.
It all started with a simple concept: "Since I was a little girl my parents really taught me to treat animals and the environment the way I'd want to be treated," Testa tells mbg. For her, that meant stocking up on reusable bags and eco-friendly lunch boxes, recycling whenever possible, tending to a homegrown organic garden, and raving about the world's most underrated holiday to classmates (Earth Day, of course).
A few years ago, Plastic Paradise, a documentary on the Great Pacific garbage patch, inspired her to hone in on plastic pollution in particular. After all, the average American goes through 185 pounds of plastic a year, and 50 percent of the plastic is thrown away after just one use.
"The movie really opened my eyes to what's happening to our animal species in their oceans—and how it's all getting back to us." But it wasn't enough for Hannah to reduce her own plastic waste; she wanted to inspire others to do the same. Once she convinced her local library to hold a public screening of the film and saw nearly 100 people turn up to learn more, she was inspired to spread the message further.
Fast-forward to today, and Testa has spoken to crowds of over 400 people ("You can't even tell she's nervous up there; she's awesome," beams her dad), accepted more "Student of the Year" and "Eco-Ambassador" awards than you can count, and traveled the country spreading a plastic-free message—all by the ripe old age of 14.
Her campaign has made her a local legend of sorts, garnering the attention of GA senator Michael Williams, who's helping to bring Plastic Pollution Awareness Day to life.
Hannah hopes that tomorrow's holiday serves as a reminder that you're never too young, too this, too that, to make a difference.
"A lot of my peers are surprised that someone their age can accomplish this much, and it encourages them to do more," she says. "When you're younger, you see a lot of adults making a difference and you think 'Wow, when I'm older I want to do something like that.' But you don't have to wait until you're older; you can do it now."
By sharing artists like Benjamin Von Wong, who crafts mesmerizing scenes using plastic bottles, and giving ideas on how everyone can do their part to cut down on plastic, she hopes that the event inspires other young people to start something similar in their own communities. Now that's something worth missing school for.
If you want to help support Hannah's message, head to her website and check out these mpg-approved resources for easy ways to cut down on your consumption: