Environmental pollution is a common problem all over the world. People have been trying to tackle this issue in different ways: they have been burning rubbish and simultaneously polluting the air; and dumping waste into seas, rivers and oceans, and at the same time contaminating the water. Solving one problem, they created a bigger one.
The same thing happened with plastic bags. Paradoxically, they were invented to save the environment. More than 60 years ago, Swedish engineer Stan Gustaf Tulin created a plastic shopping bag to protect the forest from large-scale deforestation. Durable and long-lasting plastic bags were to become a multiple-use alternative for the paper that back then people used for packaging.
However, Tulin's plan failed due to the public’s irresponsibility: everyone started throwing out plastic bags immediately after use. Very soon, the inventor's idea led to the damage that environmental organizations, private corporations, and millions of members of the general public are trying to fix right now by taking small steps.
My friends and I decided to join the fight against this climate crisis. We founded the Green Line eco-workshop – a project created as a part of the global UPSHIFT Ukraine programme, run by UNICEF with support from ING Bank. Our project is intended to reduce the number of plastic bags and replace them with eco-friendly products.
You may think that 9-graders should have been hitting their books and preparing for exams. You may also wonder how girls can impact environmental change. However, nowadays, young people drive innovation worldwide; so many bright ideas have been coming from them just in the last two years. This is why our team took matters into our own hands; every one of us is confident that the future of the planet affects all of us!
Our eco-workshop serves a twofold purpose: dealing with excessive production of clothing, which in most cases is purchased and used only a few times, and also with the proliferation of plastic products, specifically plastic bags.
These things are so familiar in our lives but so destructive to the environment. After realising the damage, people started recycling plastic or looking for alternatives. Now more than ever, store shelves are filled with products made of recycled polyethene or packaging, which decompose quickly. In addition, waste sorting is being introduced at schools, and zero plastic waste hashtag challenges are going viral.
I can tell from my experience that soil and water contamination is not unique to the big cities. Every year, my home town Bratslav in Vinnytsia region in west-central Ukraine hosts an environmental volunteer clean-up event that involves both students and adults. Eighty per cent of the waste collected is plastic. This makes you think about the serious ecological danger that an ordinary plastic bag poses to people’s lives.
Our project is one of the ways to help the planet solve the plastic crisis. Green Line is an ecological workshop that is fighting against pollution in two directions: replacement and recycling. The Green
Line initiative sews eco-bags from used clothes and makes an eco-conscious lifestyle popular among young people.
I believe that eco-bags that come in different sizes and styles are a convenient alternative for shopping or storing goods, as well as a stylish accessory. Our team strives to make eco-bags and environmental friendliness fashionable and trendy. We dream of spreading the idea among young people that being eco-friendly is as cool as wearing force shoes or having a million subscribers on Instagram.
Every year each of us uses about 500 plastic bags on average. Only 6 per cent of them are recycled. We use a thin plastic bag for 20-30 minutes, and it takes hundreds of years to decompose. I am convinced that joint efforts can reduce the use of plastic bags and attract even more people to the eco-friendly lifestyle. Everyone can start with something. Here are my tiny steps towards reaching this goal:
1. Buy as few products wrapped in plastic as possible.
2. Carry a reusable water bottle.
3. Say 'no' to disposable items — napkins, dishes, towels.
4. Replace a plastic straw with a metal one.
5. Buy grains in bulk and avoid plastic packaging.
6. Replace plastic toothbrushes with wooden ones.
Yuliia Hurnitska, 14, from Bratslav, Ukraine, is a co-founder of Green Line eco-workshop. She created and implemented her project through the UPSHIFT Youth Innovations Programme, supported by UNICEF and ING Bank.
UPSHIFT is a global innovations programme, that covers 23 countries worldwide. It aims to develop young people’s 21st century skills and spread knowledge of social entrepreneurship. The Programme is supporting young people through training, mentoring and provision of funding to their initiatives that are intended to solve the problems of youth and find innovative solutions for their communities.