About the Author: Gloria Li is studying environmental science and philosophy at the University of Florida. She coordinates the U.S. Green Building Council sustainable architecture club and hopes to use her passion for the arts and sciences to promote creative science-based management solutions to climate change concerns.
The sun is shining, clouds dot the horizon, and the ocean glimmers blue. A typical Florida day.
Yet, as you gaze across the picture-perfect scene, you have the nagging feeling that something is off. The answer lies in the sand: littered between dunes and beach chairs, dozens of tiny wrappers and cigarette butts rear their ugly heads.
Ensuring trash-free waters is an EPA priority and is an integral part of improving water quality is decreasing pollution in our waterways. Growing up in coastal Florida, I saw how our economically and ecologically important coasts and waterways were suffering from the steady buildup of human litter.
This uncomfortable awareness followed me into high school.
During a trip to Costa Rica, I saw a recycle bin that was made out of plastic water bottles. This inspired me to start a community initiative called The Bottle Project, which encourages transparency about plastic consumption. My friends and I saw that our society has an unhealthy addiction to disposable plastics and we sought to raise awareness of this issue— specifically calling into question the necessity of plastic water bottles— by marrying creativity and conservation.
The reason I am so drawn towards working with the youth is because they are the ones who will inherit this world and its injustices. Plastic pollution and any kind of environmental degradation is, in fact, an issue of environmental justice— protecting the environment is a prerequisite to protecting our constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. Without a clean and safe environment, our ability to access these and other rights is simply not possible.
That’s the beauty. Finding where interests and skill-sets come together behind a common goal: to preserve our earth for future generations. One tool you can use to get people interested in recycling is EPA’s Save Energy by Recycling Page. The Waste Reduction Model tool featured there can be used to calculate how much energy can be saved by recycling, even just a few plastic bottles.
In the spirit of reducing, reusing, and recycling, throughout the year, we collected used plastic water bottles on our campus and stayed behind after school to work on building a recycle bin akin to the one I saw in Costa Rica.
We also worked with local elementary and middle schools to conduct community and beach cleanups and then hosted recycled art workshops with these groups of students, using the collected litter to create artwork. I hoped that, in the act of repurposing what otherwise would be seen as just trash, we could imbue these disposable products with a new life.
Looking back at The Bottle Project, I realize that many different elements of art and activism came together to paint a picture of activism and social change. I had, almost unknowingly, united two of my greatest passions in life: art and environmental conservation. I am lucky and honored to work with other young people to help clean up our local communities, because it is our future and should we should be doing everything that we can to protect it.