While most teens were wondering what to do for the long, socially distanced summer, Port Washington resident Janna Kothe, a rising ninth grader, decided to do something positive for the environment.
Janna had participated in preparations for the Residents Forward Youth Climate Summit and wanted to do more.
She felt strongly that it is everyone’s responsibility to act locally, stating, “We all share the responsibility for our planet and thus each of us can make a difference by doing little things such as changing to plastic-free items, picking up litter, and reducing their meat and energy consumption.”
She looked for something that would give her tools to do hands-on work and engage other members of the community in helping to clean up, educate and get people to change their habits, and found the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp.
Co-founded by Captain Planet Foundation, Lonely Whale, and Point Break Foundation, the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp was an in-person camp for youth who want to work on environmental issues.
This year, due to the pandemic, it ran virtually and attracted over 400 youth, ages 11-18, from 40 countries around the world. From June 26 to July 1, the youth participants learned how to create a successful campaign to raise awareness of and get rid of single-use plastics in their own communities.
Janna had the opportunity to meet with other youth environmental activists and mentors. One mentor was Jeff Kirschner, founder and CEO of the app Litterati.
Litterati is an app for identifying and tracking garbage that has been collected by individuals and groups. It has active members in 165 countries who have collectively picked up and categorized over 6 million pieces of garbage.
Learning about Litterati gave Janna an idea for a community campaign. She set up a community challenge on Litterati and got prizes donated by Superzero, Blueland, Tweezerman, Wear Lively, and Sandcloud as an incentive for participants.
Janna worked quickly to get her challenge organized. It was publicized by Residents Forward, PWMama, and friends and family who shared her project on social media. It ran from July 10 thru Aug. 1 and had 23 participants.
Collectively they picked up and documented over 5400 pieces of trash in the Port Washington area. Of the collected pieces in Port Washington, Litterati was able to identify about 2000 with their AI technology. Of those, the top categories were:
• Paper items (14 percent)
• Other plastic items (unidentified general plastic including a lot of broken-down pieces) (13%)
• Wrappers and snack bags (13 percent)
• Plastic bottles and caps (13 percent)
• Cigarette butts (11 percent)
• Plastic straws (3 percent )
The collection places were spread out over streets in town and the local beaches. Along the beach, most trash was along the high tide line indicating that it either comes from boats, beachgoers, or the streets via gutters, as Port, like most of Long Island, has a separate storm sewer system that allows stormwater to carry debris on the streets directly into Manhasset Bay. Janna’s project finding matched those of the Ocean Conservancy International Beach Clean Up, now in its 26th year.
Janna remarked, “I have personally picked up 3900 pieces which shows how sadly easy it is to pick up that amount of trash in a short time. If you walk along our main commercial streets, it is shocking how much carelessly disposed of trash you find.”
Janna already has plans for the future. She is teaming up with a group of friends to create an online monthly newsletter. Her first issue will focus on sustainable practices in school. She’s interested in both the science and politics of environmental action and is thinking of working with local and state politicians and organizations to push legislation like the disposable straw ban pending at the state level.
When asked what her future dream job would be, she replied, “Working for the United Nations in an environmental field.”
Tips for breaking the single use habit.
Reusables are available in all sizes. And if you don’t like hauling a water bottle, try a collapsible camp cup.
Japanese style bento boxes have multiple sections for an assortment of foods. Use reusable wrappers for other items. Wash and reuse plastic storage bags.
To-go Coffee Cup
If your morning routine involves take-out, bring your own insulated mug. It will keep your morning beverage hot longer and you will save 300 cups from the trash per year.
Sipping Doesn’t Suck
There is a big push to eliminate plastic straws. You can sip your beverage or bring a metal or bamboo reusable straw of your own.
Recycle or Return
Make sure your recyclables are properly sorted. The Town of North Hempstead paper recycling includes newspapers, magazines, white and colored paper, shredded paper, soft cover books, junk mail, folders, corrugated cardboard, and brown cardboard.
Glass and metals including clean aluminum, tin, steel beverage and food cans, aluminum foil and pans and empty aerosol cans are accepted. Only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics can be recycled. Town of Oyster Bay is similar, but they do not accept glass.