You never know what is going to be the spark for the next budding activist to take a stand.
In the case of 9-year-old Lizzie A. (her family prefers her last time is not revealed), it was a news story about how the UK is still sending tonnes of plastic waste to low- and middle-income countries — despite an EU-wide ban, and a government manifesto pledge to stop doing so.
In September 2020 alone, as Global Citizen has reported, the UK sent more than 7,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste to countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Turkey, according to the nonprofit Last Beach Clean Up.
The plastic does not always end up being recycled and reused, sadly, often it is simply burned. The waste that is being sent “is often unsorted and dirty”, Jim Puckett, director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit that works on issues related to how toxic waste is dealt with, explained. “This is the stuff we see being dumped and burned in south-east Asia,” he added.
News of this prompted Lizzie to set up a petition on Change.org asking the UK government to stop, arguing that the practice “isn’t fair or right”.
She has addressed the petition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, along with five other politicians including the recycling minister at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, and the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer.
It has already reached almost 80,000 signatures in less than a week, and that progress was described as “fast-moving” by a spokesperson from Change.org — particularly given that issues related to COVID-19 have taken over a lot of attention for petitions.
The primary school pupil became concerned about plastic pollution after learning about it in her Year Four class, her mother, Esther, said on Wednesday. She has been especially concerned about the practice of sending plastic waste to low-income countries after her mum showed her a newspaper article about it.
“The UK currently is the second largest exporter of plastic waste to poorer countries. Since we have exited the EU, we no longer are bound by their rules,” her petition says.
“They have banned export of plastic waste from Jan. 1, 2021, however the UK hasn’t. This isn’t okay — please join me in doing something about it,” she adds.
Lizzie goes on to explain that she has always loved the ocean and wants to be a marine biologist or ecologist when she grows up — but the harm being done to the seas by humans is really worrying her.
“I would like to help the planet and save the beautiful fish, plants, and wildlife. It makes me feel extremely sad that plastic ends up in the ocean and causes so much harm,” she writes.
After the success of the petition, Lizzie is also writing a letter to her local East Devon MP, the Conservative Simon Jupp. She wants him to help persuade the government to take action on the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto promise to ban sending plastic to less economically developed countries.
“If parliament realises people are thinking passionately about plastic not being exported then Boris Johnson might ban it quicker,” Lizzie said.
If you would like to find out more and sign Lizzie’s petition, you can do so here. You can read Global Citizen’s coverage on plastic pollution here, and join us in taking action against the issue here.