By Hannah Testa
Hannah Testa explains how she came about creating Hannah4Change and provides some simple advise on how young people can help save the environment.
What was your motivation to start Hannah4Change?
I love being out in nature, but it really all started with my love for animals and the fact we are driving so many species to extinction because of human greed and ego, whether it’s through deforestation or poaching. I didn’t think there was a whole lot of advocacy for this issue. From my perspective as a kid, I didn’t hear a lot of people speaking up and I felt like I had had enough of it! I couldn’t just sit back and watch it all happen.
When—and how did you get things rolling?
I started Hannah4Change when I was 10 years old with a Facebook page so if I was doing a fundraiser or drive and collecting supplies and I wanted to spread the word, the people in my community could get involved.
Then I got involved in my community and with other organizations. I joined their board or I would volunteer. Not only did I find an amazing tribe of people and have the best time with my new friends, my new family, but they also helped me create my organization, Hannah4Change, an organization focused on educating people on global issues and what individuals can do.
Not only did I find an amazing tribe of people and have the best time with my new friends, my new family, but they also helped me create my organization
You do a lot of public speaking. Do you find when you speak to a group of adults that they take you seriously?
Yes! I speak to all different ages, and for the most part they’re really receptive. I actually struggle a bit more with middle and high school kids. When I’m meeting with businesses or politicians, I think sometimes they initially don’t expect a lot from me. They don’t realize, I guess, what they’re up for. But then they realize that young people across the world have a voice, and that I’m not just a little 16-year-old that needs community hours. This is my passion and I want to see action on it.
Speaking of action. What is something young people—or people of any age—can do to help save the environment?
We’ve all heard of Reduce Reuse Recycle, and those things are all great. You obviously want to reuse all the plastic that you already have. But one of the things I like to add to that is Refuse. The biggest problem with plastics is the single-use plastics we use every day, because plastic isn’t necessarily bad. We do incredible things with plastic, we’re able to go to the highest and lowest places in the world because of plastic, but the way we use it isn’t the best, especially because plastic is designed to last for a long time—hundreds, even thousands of years. It’s made with petroleum and fossil fuels and so many different chemicals, but when we’re using it for minutes, maybe even seconds, whether it’s your coffee stirrer or your plastic bag or your straw or your bottle, those things are only designed to use once. And then you throw it away. Then it stays around for a long, long time. That’s why plastic use is such a big issue, because it can’t fully break down. It kind of breaks up into these smaller pieces, and a lot of it is ending up in our oceans and in our marine life. It’s essentially choking our oceans. The best thing I think for individuals to do is to refuse single-use plastics as much as possible and bring sustainable alternatives, whether that’s a reusable bottle, or reusable straws which I love, or metal, glass and paper straws. And use reusable bags when you go out to the store.
The best thing I think for individuals to do is to refuse single-use plastics
As a 16-year-old, are you really looking ahead and feeling that the planet is your generation’s responsibility?
As young people, we’re going to inherit this planet with all of the problems that it has, and a lot of times we don’t really get to have a say in the decisions that are being made. Business people and politicians are making these huge decisions for our future and we don’t have any say in it. But it’s incredible to see so many young people speaking up and making their voices heard. And now we really are being heard, I believe people realize we’re not just little kids that are speaking up for no reason. We really do want to speak up for our own future.
Hannah Testa, the 16-year-old founder of Hannah4Change (@hannah4change), a nonprofit that fights for the protection of animals and the environment, has her eye on a future where plastics won’t outlive her. “Straws or coffee stirrers and bottles are only designed to be used once. Then you throw it away and plastic can’t fully break down,” says the Cumming, Georgia-based activist.