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This Courageous ‘Trash Girl’ Is Overcoming Bullies and Saving the World

It’ll take a lot more than bullying to stop 12-year-old Nadia Sparkes from cleaning up her community and saving the planet.

Sparkes, a year-seven student at Hellesdon High School in Norwich, UK, has collected trash during her two-mile bike rides to school since September, accumulating enough plastic to fill a few barrels with recyclable plastic along the way.  

Though Sparkes’ determined efforts have inspired her community, some classmates initially mocked her environmental work. A few kids bullied her by labeling her “Trash Girl” and telling her to pick up their trash too.

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But Sparkes didn’t back down. Instead, she decided to turn the derisive “Trash Girl” nickname into her badge of honor.

“I’m not going to stop doing the right thing because of them, and if they are going to call me trash girl, they can say it with respect,” Sparkes told the Eastern Daily Press. “I’m doing something to protect the world they also live in.”

Sparkes’ mother Paula encouraged her to own the nickname in order to overcome the bullies.

“I told her she had two choices, she could either stop collecting rubbish, stop drawing their attention and hopefully they would leave her alone,” Paula Sparkes told the Eastern Daily Press. “Or she could own ‘trash girl.’”

Read More: BBC to Eliminate All Single-Use Plastics By 2020

The bullies may have made fun of Sparkes, but plastic trash is no joke.

Each year, people around the world use about 1 trillion plastic bags, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates. In addition, roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. That waste often washes up on beaches, accumulates in massive patches of floating garbage, and gets eaten by marine animals.

Global Citizen campaigns on reducing plastic waste and improving the environment. You can take action here.

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They’re often called future leaders, but children like Sparkes continue to demonstrate how they can champion important issues right now — even if that means overcoming bullying and other attempts to discourage or discount them.

For example, Florida high schoolers have galvanized a national movement against gun violence, facing off against lawmakers and a powerful gun lobby. And at age 17, Malala Yousafzai earned a Nobel Peace Prize at for her work promoting girls’ education, even after being shot in the head by Taliban extremists a few years earlier.

Over the past few months, Sparkes’ work has inspired community members, including several local artists who have taken up her environmental cause.

Earlier this year, artist Ruddy Muddy, who creates elaborate images out of mud, featured Sparkes in a portrait on the back of his van.

“This young lady deserves recognition for the work she is doing to keep Britain tidy. She beat the bullies by being interviewed on TV,” one off Ruddy Muddy’s fans commented on Facebook. “She kept going while being called names. She now wears the name "Trash Girl" with pride and so she should.”