Plastic Seas and a New Generation of Problem Solvers

Editor’s note: We’re delighted to welcome Philippe Cousteau, Jr., Co-founder of youth leadership nonprofit EarthEcho International to share about the challenge of plastic seas and how a new generation of problem solvers is helping. His perspective on the new generation of environmental problem solvers will give you hope (and inspire you to take even more action – no matter your age). 

Plastic Seas and a New Generation of Problem Solvers, Philippe Cousteau image via EarthEcho International
Image via EarthEcho International

Last October, I spent a week in Melbourne Australia’s Port Phillip Bay area with scientists and a group of Australian and American educators. We explored the impact of plastic trash on aquatic ecosystems and the organisms that depend on them.

What we found was unfortunately not surprising or rare. Plastic pollution was everywhere from blighted coastlines to the stomach contents of marine birds.

While what we saw was devastating on many levels, all of us on EarthEcho Expeditions: PlasticSeas remained filled with hope for the future because of the amazing young people we met along the way.

Bringing Environmental Topics to the Classroom

Our purpose was to bring real world issues and science to classrooms around the globe to inspire new generations of problems solvers. We want to engage the young leaders who will tackle pressing problems like plastic pollution in our ocean and many other issues facing our planet now instead of later. Not only do I have confidence in today’s youth to lead positive change, I believe we cannot have lasting change without them.

Related: The Significance of Observing Earth Day OUTSIDE with Kids

The plastic pollution clogging our ocean and waterways provides a prime example of a current and solvable issue. It’s also an entry point for young people to engage and make an impact.

For one thing it is truly everywhere.

No passport or trip to far off destinations is required; the plastic bottles, straws, bags, takeout containers and much more are present in the streets, gutters and road sides of every community. That vast majority of this trash travels through local waterways and ends up in the ocean.

In a single year an estimated 8 million tons of plastic pollution enter our ocean from 192 coastal countries.

This is equivalent to emptying a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.

The plastic in our ocean is destroying ecosystems and is increasingly found in the seafood we consume. It is clear that we need better solutions if we are going to stem this tide of plastic trash.

Young People Have More Influence Than They May Think

This is where youth play an important role. The young people in our lives already have a tremendous influence from the products we purchase to the food we eat. Through technology and access to information, children today are also much more engaged when it comes to the issues facing our planet and society as a whole.

At EarthEcho, we work with young people around that world who are driven and committed to making the world a better place and they are making an impact. Take 12-year old Shalise, who worked with the local council in her community on the east coast of Australia to install bins to collect used and discarded fishing line. Or 17-year old environmental advocate and California native John, who after seeing the amount of plastic water bottles used on his campus, worked to stop the problem at its source by convincing his school district to install a refillable water bottle station. The station has since saved more than 6,300 plastic bottles from entering the environment.

Phillipe Cousteau Jr with young environmentalists

The good news is that Shalise and John represent a growing youth movement whose members are taking action and developing solutions. And they aren’t stopping there. Many plan to pursue careers connected to STEM or social sciences to help them further their dreams of making the world a better place. At EarthEcho we’ve learned after more than a decade of supporting and inspiring youth leaders that there are three simple things we can do to help young people have a positive impact on the planet and their communities.

How to Encourage Young People to Become Environmental Leaders

Engage young people authentically and on their terms. Too often we try to make youth the hands and feet of a movement instead of the hearts and minds. Acknowledge that their opinions and voices matter by including them in decision-making about policy and advocacy. Recognize youth as more than just volunteers at clean up events by supporting their efforts to influence policy and engage community leaders.

Related: Raising Tomorrow’s Sustainable Leaders

Help young people understand the bigger picture. Connecting the dots for a child of how a reusable water bottle or cloth shopping bag can help save their favorite marine animal for example, can spark a journey of exploration and discovery that’s surprising and transformative.

Encourage action. It doesn’t matter if it is a small step in your household or a community project, empowering kids to be active in solutions fuels a sense of pride and agency that can stay with and inspire a child for a lifetime.

Phillipe and Ashlan Cousteau

My wife Ashlan and I can’t wait to help our child discover this amazing planet and the special role she can play in protecting and preserving it. I know we’ll share with her the stories of the many young people who are making an impact today as kids, knowing that in the future, they will provide an endless source of inspiration.

For more information and resources to empower and inspire your young leaders, please visit

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