Small Plastic, Big Problem – Ellie @ the Ocean Summit 2018

By February 5, 2018Animal Welfare, CAS, Green


Ellie Cottrell, a Grade 12 student, taking Geography HL was one of the keynote speakers at the Volvo World Ocean Race’s “Ocean Summit” on 22nd January 2018, addressing a large gathering of committed academics and activists in the marine world.  You can catch a summary of the overall event on this video (Ellie is there right at the start!).  Here are her thoughts about the experience:

“Micro-plastics, or plastic pollution generally, in Hong Kong is something that is often talked about in the classroom or in discussions with teachers, but I found that there is little action taken to solve the issue. Particularly in the context of micro plastics, I found that as the issue is harder to be seen physically, it is often disregarded in favour other issues. 

After doing the Extended Essay (EE), I came to learn how under-researched this topic is, while also learning about the toxic and deadly consequences of micro plastic pollution. After finishing the EE earlier this school year, I found myself feeling frustrated with the difficulty of making a change about this issue, both from the idea of a cleanup measure and a preventative solution. Working with human rights issues and refugee rights, I found it was easier to get directly involved and campaign for institutional change. But making change for this issue has been difficult, as I felt like advocacy can only go so far when corporations continue to sell single-use plastics. It’s an issue close to my heart, where I have began to take my own personal measures such as saying “no” to single-use plastics and advocating for the issue among friends and family. Yet I still didn’t really know where I could go to advocate for this issue on a bigger platform or to make a direct difference. 

Last week, I spoke at the Ocean Summit for the Volvo Ocean Race as the Youth Speaker.  Ms. Safaya gave me this amazing opportunity, and it opened my eyes to the innovative solutions people are taking to the issue of plastic pollution, while also giving a platform to raise my voice. I had the opportunity to see some amazing speakers who had started initiatives such as the Cup Club, providing a sustainable solution to disposable coffee cups, the Plastic Diet, the changing people’s outlook on disposable plastic bags in Indonesia, and many others as well. I was humbled to be able to see so many innovative yet simple solutions to the plastic problem, which all had had an enormous positive impact on the issue. 

Being able to speak at the conference in front of so many academics and public figures who I admire was an amazing experience. I was able to share my own experiences through my work and research I had done in the extended essay on micro-plastics in Hong Kong, while also being able to use my voice to advocate for the necessity for individual change.  This experience was something new to me, and I wasn’t sure how the audience would react in terms of gaining support for change. I was pleased to see the positive reactions from my speech, with people sending me messages and emails after the conference to ask more questions about my work. This experience showed me the willingness for change in the community, and I can only hope to get more involved in this issue in the future.”

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