(Photo by Anoushka Gupta)
West Torrance High School

Youth unite against plastic pollution at Algalita’s Youth Innovation Forum

Algalita, a local anti-plastic pollution non-profit, hosted their second annual Youth Innovation Forum at Cal State Long Beach from Aug. 2-4.

There were 82 registered attendees who were selected after proving their knowledge and interest in environmental issues through an online application.

The goal of the forum was to “empower a new generation of critical thinkers who will shift the broken systems that have caused the plastic pollution crisis,” said Algalita Education Director Katie Allen.  

The Forum started with some introductions and an icebreaker so the attendees had the chance to become more comfortable with each other.

The organizing heads, Allen and Anika Ballent, quickly established a culture of collaboration and openness, encouraging all attendees to participate.

In the afternoon, Colin Mangham, the founder of Biomimicry L.A., gave a presentation on the applications of biomimicry on business and technology.

Notably, the presentation diverged from the traditional lecture format and instead allowed students to spend time in nature and come up with conclusions by themselves.

At the end of the day, students were given the opportunity to network and get to know each other. There was attendees from Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Canada, as well as many California natives. 

Dyson Chee was one of many out-of-state attendees. A rising senior and home-schooler from Hawaii, Chee didn’t feel like the cultural differences were too apparent.

“Of course the culture is different, the perspective is different, the climate is different, everything is really different except for the fact that we’re all here together, from all parts of the world really, to come here and beat plastic pollution,” Chee said. “So, we all have the same goal in mind. Things are different, but they’re really the same since we all have the same goal in mind.”

The second day was marked by a deeper dive into the world of plastic pollution with a focus on the background of the problem and the innovations currently addressing it.

Students were able to walk around and study over 15 products and companies in an innovative Amoeba Brainstorm format which ultimately culminated in a one minute pitch regarding the relative merits of the idea.

Numerous representatives from outside organizations were also present to provide their perspective on the issue of plastic pollution.

Recycling representatives from the Burbank Recycling Center and Green Cycle dispelled myths about recycling while also addressing the difficulties the recycling industry faced.

The heavy subject matter was followed by a light lunch and an active brainstorming exercise where students modeled all the systems associated with the plastic pollution problem. Following the activity, students listened to the stories from representatives from two for-profit companies, Bureo and Beauty Counter.

The representatives, Jaclyn Johnson and Sasha Calder, highlighted the relative merits and demerits of working for a successful corporation that also focuses on sustainability, showcasing another side of the plastic pollution issue. 

The night ended with a screening of the documentary “Tomorrow,” which shared a message of hope and positivity that set the stage for the final day, which focused on finding solutions to the systemic issues regarding plastic pollution.

After a presentation by Stiv Wilson and short preview of his upcoming film “The Story of Stuff,” students were able to form round-table style groups and discuss their ideas on how to subvert the systems of power that control their lives.

After discussing in small groups, students were able to discuss their solutions with the entire forum, sparking conversations that left many with new ideas they strove to take back to their communities.

“It’s easy for me to be discouraged when I’m not around these people. The passion and drive that I’m feeling right now needs to be bottled up and saved for later because it’s really easy to just wait for later,” said Hannah Smith, a rising senior from Torrance High School. “I need to remember that change is possible and that we really do have the power as a people, it’s just about reading it and interpreting it and being literate and using that to our advantage. I think just understanding the tools that we have for change is a big takeaway.”

Overall, the forum was successful in its goal to expose students to the true extent of both the issues surrounding plastic pollution and the steps being taken to fix it. Attendees came out feeling inspired and invigorated to spark change in their own communities.