To mark this year’s International Day of the Girl, the Ozone Secretariat had the pleasure of speaking with Lilly Platt, a young environmentalist from the Netherlands, to find out more about her work protecting the environment.
Lilly first started collecting plastic at the age of 6, after a walk with her grandfather. She was so shocked at how much plastic litter they saw during that walk, that she decided there and then, that she would do something about it.
She started her weekly litter collection, and since then has collected almost 200,000 pieces of litter which she carefully sorts, documents, posts on social media and then responsibly disposes it. Now, at the age of 13, she’s well known internationally as a young environmental activist with a huge following on Twitter @lillyspickup Facebook @lillysplasticpickup and Instagram @lillys_plastic_pickup
As well as her anti-litter campaign, she also started a weekly school strike in September 2018 in the Netherlands, her home, in support of her friend Greta Thunberg.
But it hasn’t always been easy. She has often had to deal with negative comments and reactions, and battle with schools and fellow students who have been less understanding or supportive of her endeavours. Due to strict laws in the Netherlands to ensure children go to school, Lilly needs special permission to be absent for her weekly school strike. Something that might have been easier were that for sports, rather than an environmental cause. But this hasn’t put off Lilly. Her achievements to date to raise awareness on plastic pollution have included speaking at the request of the President of Egypt, awards, and mantle of Goodwill Ambassador. More recently, Lilly featured in a book of 25 prominent girl environmental activists Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth
Lilly, you have been an active environmentalist for half of your life. It’s not always been easy, and you’ve often had to deal with negative reactions to your work. How were you able to deal with that? What is most important to know about being an activist especially a youth activist
One of the most important things to have is a support network around you. The support can be anyone: your family, your friends or even your fellow activists. When I strike, I always have my mum (my supportive background person as I call her) around and to keep an eye on things. Most people are supportive of what I do but there are a lot who are anti-climate but also anti-youth activism. My mum and grandpa always make sure I’m in a safe environment.
Social media is also an area that needs checking. There are a lot of trolls. Again, my mum helps keep an overview and although I know these messages are out there, I never get to see them. For example, there is a group of climate scientists called #MuskOx and they watch over my account and if anything should happen troll-wise I can call on them. But mostly, I don’t let these things bother me as I keep positive and always have hope.
What would you say to other young activists, not just those fighting climate, who are perhaps struggling to be heard or taken seriously?
As an activist it is always important to be as informed as possible about your subject. This knowledge will help you explain your reasons for wanting to be an activist and why you feel so strongly. You can explain them to your parents, friends and even journalists. Start a social media account especially for your activism. You can share your work and facts and photos. Remember to post content every day and tag others. Remember to always have hope. Your action no matter how small is significant. All small actions together make 1 large one. Dr Jane Goodall told me to always continue and never stop. The world needs YOU!
Now that your voice is being heard, where can you see that you are making a difference? What do you think has been your biggest achievement yet?
As founder of my initiative Lilly’s Plastic Pickup, I encourage people to reduce their plastic usage and say no to single use plastic. It is very important as an activist to know that deeds not just words are important. I continue to pick up litter every day and am now close to 200,000 pieces collected. My story and my journey are often requested when I am asked as a speaker to help inspire people further. I have received several awards for my environmental activism. A highlight was speaking at UN World Oceans Day, and I have been invited to Glasgow to share my story at this year’s UN COP for youth COY16.
This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl is: Digital generation. Our generation. How have digital tools, such as social media, helped you in your work?
Social media is instant. I use social media as a tool to share my environmentalism and photographs and news to inform. It is also a good tool to get in contact with people, politicians, and news. It is also a tool to help educate, especially in remote areas. The key to a secure an independent future for many girls in third world countries is to continue with their education rather than marry at a young age. One of the solutions to climate change as listed by Project Drawdown is the education of girls and youth women. This empowerment for girls is something that I champion as is the ending of child marriage. My successful use of my social media and connecting with those around me lead me to be named in the top 100 list of influencers tackling Plastic Pollution by Onalytia.
Keeping with the theme do you feel that adults are paying attention, especially decision makers in government, to advocate for climate action to ensure your generation has a future?
There are a lot of climate deniers, however, the balance is tipped by the adults that help support the youth and our cause. There are parents, teachers, scientists and even doctors and lawyers who are all supporting and helping to amplify the actions and voices of the youth. There are several tiers of engagement for law and decision makers, local, national, and international. Open letters to councils and newspapers, signing petitions and letter writing campaigns can all help in reaching those who make the decisions. I count as one of my big supporters Jean Pascale van Ypersele. He was vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and wrote about my activism in one of his speeches. James Alice Micheal, Ocean Ambassador, and former President of the Seychelles is also a great supporter, and he is always the first to message me when I post of my environmentalism. When I started my climate activism in 2018 not many spoke of climate change but now it is on the news, adverts and general discussion. The change is there. But it needs help to make it become real action.
You supported the launch of our Reset Earth animation and game app earlier in the year to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the ozone layer among children. What do you think schools/teachers could do to help children deal with the challenge of environmental issues?
My wish was always to have environmental issues taught in schools from the very youngest so that a generation can grow up knowing about these issues; that we build a generation to love, care and protect the planet instead of destroying it. Taking a note from my favourite school Sunnyside in Glasgow, they have an Ocean Defenders club and various actions and campaigns to help the environment. When I visited, they even had a game called Lilly’s Lane - with rubbish thrown on a model road and it had to be picked up to tidy the place. I was very honoured. These types of ingenious games help reenforce the message of helping the environment.
You’ve received encouragement and support from some very well know environmental figureheads, such as Dr. Jane Goodall. Who are your role models and why?
Dr. Jane is very special to me. She is a role model not only because of her incredible work but because she is a role model for all girls on what can be achieved and to always strive forward.
Sir David Attenborough is another role model. He has been my hero from as far back as I can remember, opening my curious mind to facts about animals and dinosaurs. I had a game about the National History Museum and learnt about all the exhibits. When I visited it was incredible to see them. He is one of my all-time heroes - I hope to meet him one day.
Grandpa Jim is my hero and the cleverest person I know. I call him the living tree of knowledge. He has travelled all over the world and has books on everything. He taught me all about the countries he visited and the animals he has seen. My love of drawing and sketching came from drawing the animals in his reference books. He helps me with my project, and I love him very much for all he has taught me.
Finally, one reviewer of the book Girl Warriors in which you are featured, found the book inspiring and empowering. What do you hope, through your work, to inspire and empower in others?
I hope that people can see and understand the reasons being my actions; the beauty and preciousness of the world, nature, and the environment and how we need to do all we can to protect it. To inspire people is really the most amazing thing. The ripple effect is what I call the green heart journey - the green heart being the human’s connection with nature. Sometimes adults lose this as other responsibilities come alone. I will do all I can to help make that reconnection!