Our First Youth Eco Conference saw over 100 pupils from across Hampshire gather to discuss key environmental issues.
In October, we launched our first eco conference for schools from across Hampshire in conjunction with the Hampshire Youth Parliament. The well-attended event, held at Winchester College, saw secondary pupils learn, reflect and discuss key environmental issues over the course of the day. The students were inspired by guest speakers, innovative companies and engaged in informative workshops focusing on plastic pollution.
What makes a successful Eco Conference?
It’s 2022 and despite all the difficulties the world is facing, the conference was full of hope and optimism for a better future for our planet. It can seem like an uphill climb trying to protect our environment and yet with the energy, expertise and enthusiasm delivered at the conference, we created an opportunity. This opportunity allowed us to remember why we are trying to protect our precious planet but also allowed us to celebrate a number of organisations and people who are making a difference.
Hampshire Youth Parliament Member Dev Sharma is clearly a fervent ambassador for our planet and this is clear in his conviction to call for action, especially to those who are already in a position to change legislation. His presence, along with the other HYP members acted as positive role models for the pupils visiting and we hope inspired them to follow in their footsteps.
The key speakers were selected for their expertise and passion. This was certainly true of Georgina Lamb, CEO of the David Shepard Wildlife Foundation. She eloquently shared that DSWF works with rangers to fight the illegal wildlife trade. Did you know, that products like ivory are often worth more than gold and cocaine on the black market? Find out more startling facts and how you help through the David Shepard Wildlife Foundation.
Emily Murrell, Director of the Climate Policy Programme at the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), and trustee for Earthwatch Europe, also delivered a thought-provoking speech. She impressed the audience with her astute knowledge of COP26 and spoke of the role that these global summits play in addressing the environmental challenges we all face. Her candour was refreshing and inspirational.
The conference allowed for a variety of environmental issues and their solutions to be shared, which gave us the opportunity to host 3 workshops based on plastic pollution and waste: fast fashion, recycling and a call for action.
The fast fashion workshop delivered the truth behind our throwaway culture. Fast Fashion is most often defined by these 4 words: fast, cheap, mass-produced and trendy. Annually, the world throws away an average of 92 million tonnes of textile waste, which is mind-boggling itself! However, by 2030 this number is expected to swell to 134 million tonnes. Evidently, we need to reduce the amount of clothing waste we produce and send to landfill so we asked pupils to finish this sentence: ‘An item is old when….’. It was interesting to read a variety of answers: when it has holes in it, when I have worn it lots, when it’s too small for me and we were relieved that nobody stated ‘after I’ve worn it once’. Unfortunately, this is what VICE UK unearthed when they asked 9,549 people, mostly aged between 18 and 24, “Do you ever buy an item and wear it once before chucking it out?” 23 percent of respondents said yes!
However, we then looked at single-event t-shirts popular at marathons, sporting events and hen dos to name a few. How often have we put that t-shirt at the back of a wardrobe, added it to the textile centre or even just binned it? We encouraged the pupils to think of alternatives and the majority questioned why we even needed these t-shirts and similar items at all! We finished the session by challenging pupils to flip an old t-shirt into a tote bag, using just a pair of scissors. These t-shirts were kindly donated by local clothing charity shops and any not taken home were added to our reusable bag collection. We hope that the session helped to challenge the reliance on fast fashion brands and even encouraged the children to question their habits. Can I reuse my clothing? Yes! Can I swap my clothes with friends? Yes! Can I repurpose my clothing into other items? Yes!
The question at the centre of the recycling workshop was why does 1 plastic bottle matter? Did you know we’ve thrown away 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic since mass production began in the 1950s but only 600 million tonnes have been recycled? The existing 4.9 billion tonnes have been sent to landﬁll, incinerated or left in the natural environment, inflicting destruction on wildlife and marine life. It’s vital that we all take responsibility to reduce the amount of waste we produce and to do so means realising just one bottle really does make a huge difference!
We invited rich discussions when we introduced the human waste line. We asked pupils to order common single-use plastic items according to the amount of time it took the product to decompose in landfill. This activity often allows people to realise that for something we use for perhaps 20 mins or even less than this, we leave a huge impact. That single-use bottle we throw away (not recycle) can take up to 1000 years to break down – and even then, ‘break down’ is a misnomer – it actually ‘breaks up’. Plastic fragments become microplastics, and eventually, nanoplastics that are smaller than 0.1 micrometres, barely visible under a microscope.
So, if one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute why does 1 plastic bottle matter? The obvious 3 choices of bin it, litter it or recycle it were discussed. However, we wanted the pupils to understand that even if we recycle a bottle and aim for closed-loop recycling of plastic, it isn’t as simple as this. A lack of recycling facilities like deposit-return schemes outside the home, poor public information, differences in local authority recycling centres, the carbon footprint caused by the production process and recycling process, and a UK recycling system that is referred to as inefficient compared to other countries inhibits us. Ultimately, the children created a list of all the ways they could reuse a single-use bottle and the most suggestions one group came up with was 23 different ways in just 7 minutes! We hope they left with an understanding that before we recycle, the priority is actually to refuse single-use plastic products in the first place, reduce the amount of waste we generate and reuse the plastic before we rely on recycling.
Our final workshop, a call to action, gave the children a space to create a social media campaign. They were asked to think about an aspect of plastic pollution that they felt passionate about in order to galvanise a community to action. Using the knowledge from the other sessions and previous experiences they created a social media plan, which they were encouraged to create and showcase after the event.
The eco conference captured the hope we all have to solve some of the problems facing our planet. It was such a success that we are planning our second eco conference for Summer 2023. Change is possible. In fact, it’s the only constant and it’s up to us to change it for the better. We really hope that through their experiences at the conference, our future generation realises that their voices are powerful and that we can all make and effect positive changes. Optimism helps us both mentally and physically, but when the challenges appear, we need motivation. It is hope that will sustain us through the inevitable environmental trials and tribulations ahead; we will look to the future with hopeful optimism.