The 16-Year-Old Founder of Hannah4Change Says ‘Plastic Pollution Is Threatening My Future’ – Parade

HannahTesta-FTR

Hannah Testa, the 16-year-old founder of Hannah4Change (@hannah4change), a nonprofit that fights for the protection of animals and the environment, has her eye on a future where plastics won’t outlive her.

“Straws or coffee stirrers and bottles are only designed to be used once. Then you throw it away and plastic can’t fully break down,” says the Cumming, Georgia-based activist.

With Earth Day coming up, Parade talked to Testa about her nonprofit, (a project of Plastic Pollution Coalition, a fiscally sponsored project of Earth Island Institute), and what happens to all the plastic straws we use once and throw away.

What was your motivation to start Hannah4Change?

I love being out in nature, but it really all started with my love for animals and the fact we are driving so many species to extinction because of human greed and ego, whether it’s through deforestation or poaching. I didn’t think there was a whole lot of advocacy for this issue. From my perspective as a kid, I didn’t hear a lot of people speaking up and I felt like I had had enough of it! I couldn’t just sit back and watch it all happen.

When—and how did you get things rolling?

I started Hannah4Change when I was 10 years old with a Facebook page so if I was doing a fundraiser or drive and collecting supplies and I wanted to spread the word, the people in my community could get involved.

Then I got involved in my community and with other organizations. I joined their board or I would volunteer. Not only did I find an amazing tribe of people and have the best time with my new friends, my new family, but they also helped me create my organization, Hannah4Change, an organization focused on educating people on global issues and what individuals can do.

Earth Day is coming up. Any special plans or are you continuing your push for plastic pollution awareness?

I’m still doing a lot of work with plastic pollution. I work with many other organizations as well. One of the big projects is Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a conference in Vancouver this year. It’s a lot of fun. It’s for elementary to high school youth that are interested in helping to protect our oceans. It’s absolutely incredible. They had the first one last year with over 100 kids. It was so amazing to see so many young people from across the U.S. that really have an eagerness to learn and get involved.

You do a lot of public speaking. Do you find when you speak to a group of adults that they take you seriously?

Yes! I speak to all different ages, and for the most part they’re really receptive. I actually struggle a bit more with middle and high school kids. When I’m meeting with businesses or politicians, I think sometimes they initially don’t expect a lot from me. They don’t realize, I guess, what they’re up for. But then they realize that young people across the world have a voice, and that I’m not just a little 16-year-old that needs community hours. This is my passion and I want to see action on it.

Speaking of action. What is something young people—or people of any age—can do to help save the environment?

We’ve all heard of Reduce Reuse Recycle, and those things are all great. You obviously want to reuse all the plastic that you already have. But one of the things I like to add to that is Refuse. The biggest problem with plastics is the single-use plastics we use every day, because plastic isn’t necessarily bad. We do incredible things with plastic, we’re able to go to the highest and lowest places in the world because of plastic, but the way we use it isn’t the best, especially because plastic is designed to last for a long time—hundreds, even thousands of years. It’s made with petroleum and fossil fuels and so many different chemicals, but when we’re using it for minutes, maybe even seconds, whether it’s your coffee stirrer or your plastic bag or your straw or your bottle, those things are only designed to use once. And then you throw it away.

Then it stays around for a long, long time.

That’s why plastic use is such a big issue, because it can’t fully break down. It kind of breaks up into these smaller pieces, and a lot of it is ending up in our oceans and in our marine life. It’s essentially choking our oceans. The best thing I think for individuals to do is to refuse single-use plastics as much as possible and bring sustainable alternatives, whether that’s a reusable bottle, or reusable straws which I love, or metal, glass and paper straws. And use reusable bags when you go out to the store.

As a 16-year-old, are you really looking ahead and feeling that the planet is your generation’s responsibility?

As young people, we’re going to inherit this planet with all of the problems that it has, and a lot of times we don’t really get to have a say in the decisions that are being made. Business people and politicians are making these huge decisions for our future and we don’t have any say in it. But it’s incredible to see so many young people speaking up and making their voices heard. And now we really are being heard, I believe people realize we’re not just little kids that are speaking up for no reason. We really do want to speak up for our own future.

There’s a great photo of you wearing a full-body plastic suit. What’s that all about?

When you first see me wearing that, you don’t exactly know what I am. But I usually have a sign, and it says that there’s around 500-700 plastic bags on my suit, and that’s how much the average American uses each year. So a family of four like mine, we would use around 2,000 plastic bags each year. And that’s a lot if you think about it!

Here are some of Testa’s favorite, earth-friendly products along with discount codes.

Silverware, cups, plates, lunch containers, bags, combs/brushes, baby care
www.lifewithoutplastic.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 10% discount.  Offer does not expire.

Grocery bags, produce bags, snack bags
www.chicobags.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 20% discount.  Offer expires May 31, 2019.

Utensil sets and stainless steel meal containers
to-goware.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 20% discount.  Offer expires May 31, 2019.

Thermoses, ice packs, coffee cups, food wraps, insulated containers, straws, bottles
www.ukonserve.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 15% discount.  Offer does not expire.

Dental floss, toothbrushes, razors, produce bags, stainless steel straws
wowelifestyle.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 10% discount.  Offer does not expire.

Lunchbox containers, bamboo straws
ecolunchboxes.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 15% discount with a $50 minimum order.  Offer expires June 1, 2019.

Glass straws, bamboo utensil sets
simplystraws.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 20% discount.  Offer does not expire.

FDA-approved, made in the U.S. paper straws
www.aardvarkstraws.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 50% discount.  Offer does not expire.

Insulated bottles, cups, tumblers, food canisters
www.kleankanteen.com
Enter discount code “Hannah4Change” to get a 25% discount.  Offer expires July 31, 2019.

Concentrated, organic laundry detergent

Visit happi.earth/hannah4change for a 15% discount.  Offer does not expire.

Health and wellness products

Use code HANNAH4C to enjoy 10% off on Humble Co.’s entire Amazon storefront. Valid thru Dec 2019: http://goo.gl/BiydkB