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Hi, this is Jen from the GIRLBRAVE podcast. I welcome you today. I'm so excited to introduce you to our guest, Purva, who started a Bye Bye Plastic Bags New Jersey. And just recently it passed that starting in the next year, New Jersey is no longer able to use single use plastic bags or paper bags. So let's just jump in and hear her story. All right.
Hi, Purva, how are you?
I'm great. How are you?
I'm doing excellent. I've been looking forward to talking to you all week long. Thank you so much for being here today on the GIRLBRAVE podcast.
Yeah, me too. I think it's so great that you're doing this, and I'm really excited to share a little bit about the work that I've been doing over the past few years.
You have a Instagram page called Bye Bye Plastic Bags New Jersey. And tell me a little bit about that and how did you get started in it?
Absolutely. Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a global movement of young people who are demanding change and specifically from adults and people who are kind of empower as elected officials and asking them to first of all, push forward environmental legislation.
And we kind of just came together as a community to start that off with saying no to plastic pollution and specifically single use plastic bags. Across the world, we're seeing young people demanding of their local legislation that they signed petitions and come together as a local community to stop plastic bags from being produced and being distributed in a community.
Here in New Jersey, we were really inspired by the initial I guess, motivation between starting the organization. And we really wanted to create change and create a lasting environmental impact within New Jersey. We decided to go for it. And we started a team here and now I've been able to lead a team of over 40 students who are kind of just working together to push forward environmental legislation.
That sounds amazing. Where did you even find out about this organization and how did you become a team leader?
Absolutely. That's a really great question because they're also still continuing to be an opportunity for young leaders to step up in their communities or even to just join like our New Jersey team as leader because really the point is along with the pushing forward environmental initiatives, empowering young people.
I first found out by watching Melati and Isabel, the founders of this movement, Ted Talk, and it was really amazing because they kind of just thought of it on a whim and decided to, I guess, do something that's never been done before.
You know, young people have been doing any change for a long time, but when you use plastics is a, I guess, smaller issue within environmentalism, that seems more realistic to approach. Starting it at that and then continuing onward to demand more and more change, was it really great stuff they were able to take and then they were able to ban single use plastics in Bali.
By following that method teams across the world have started to take on this initiative and create a lasting impact. By saying that we are a global movement, that's united.
Where does your passion for the environment, come in and do you have a certain story or why is it so important to you as it should be, but what's your story behind it?
I don't think there was like one moment where I fell in love with the environment or nature. It was kind of just as a young person. I love being outdoors. I love being in nature, but as I started reading more about environmental issues and kind of just opening my eyes to it, it became more of a reality that nature I loved, but it was being threatened. It was being harmed by certain actions that people were taking.
And I, as like the future generation, I didn't have anything to stop it. It felt out of my control. I guess one very eyeopening moment was when the forest nearby my house was deforested. And I used to always like look to that forest. And like I would go in and climb trees.
I would like see the deer squirrel all these different animals. And it was just a very shocking moment where I realized that companies were just putting their profits over the value of this life, this, I guess, ecosystem really, that was being inhabited by so many animals and different organisms.
I realized that biodiversity was that. And after that moment, it was really just, I have to do something right now. I can't wait till I'm 20 or even older. Like it just feels like the most pressing issue that I could really ever imagine. I just decided to go for it and step outside of my comfort zone. I never really thought of myself as a leader. I was very quiet and shy, but I realized that, you know, a leader does have to be someone that we stereotypically think of as this very strong I guess more alpha and extroverted person.
It could be anyone who just cares about an issue and really wants to see change happen, which is why I think that it's really important that if you care about something, don't let anyone stop you in taking initiative and taking that first step towards making change.
That's such great advice. That's definitely going to help a lot of people that hear this for those of them, that people that don't know, what does it mean when a forest is deforested?
Yeah. So when a forest is deforested essentially, kind of the goal of a company is that they want the land for some other use. So for example, this company wanted to build a large headquarters for their company.
They basically cut down all of the trees in the forest and that meant that not only all the trees were dying, it meant that all of the animals that were inhabiting that forest, that community kind of had nowhere to go.
The next couple of years after that, we were seeing the consequences of, you know, seeing all of these animals kind of just in our backyard, in our neighborhoods, just on the streets, trying to figure out where do I go next?
And this is not just coming to my community is happening all around the world where forests are being deforested oceans are being polluted. And just, I guess people are forgetting that we need a balance between conservation and development.
What kind of animals were out on the street that you normally don't see?
So it was like the deer, as I mentioned before, there were a lot of like antler and squirrel. And I think it was more of the fact that previously they would like, I guess, stay within the forest. You know, they wouldn't really be they would be very wary of like coming into the streets and they were like cautious.
And now they have nowhere to go. On the streets, you'll see like so many animals kind of just crossing the road and just acting very confused and lost. And that's because they have no choice. They have, they're really desperate for food and for a life source. And as a result, they're kind of just out on the streets, doing the best they can.
Wow. That's incredible. Thank you for sharing that story. You're a part of the youth organization at a global youth organization, and you're speaking up, are the adults listening, the people that are empowered to help? Are they listening to you guys?
So on a community level, I'm really, really glad to say yes, there are so many amazing adult allies that have stepped up and heard our requests and have been working with us to create change. One action that I really remember taking is last year, I went to a local environmental commission meeting and they brought up the issue of single use plastics.
Instead of kind of just moving on with their meeting, they were really like, what do you want us to do? Let us know like what your thoughts are. And like I felt included and a part of that conversation. And I think that's like really shows like what we really want to have.
What we're aiming for in this moment is it's not really adults versus young people. It's how do we cooperate? How do we create intergenerational cooperation so that we can all work together to solve these problems because it is going to affect us youth more, but you guys are the ones with power as the older generation.
We told them that you have the chance to make our lives better for the future so that we can, when kind of everything is in our hands, we can turn things around and turn the situation, this climate crisis around. As young people, how we should be framing it, it's really important that we don't say all adults are kind of against us. It's really not that way. There's a lot of supportive people.
Of course there are going to be challenges and there's people who don't really see the benefits, the longterm interests over their short-term goals or their profits. But I think it's with working with these adult allies who cared, that's really important, for example, in the environmental movement, there's several organizations, just within my state of New Jersey, a made up of adults that didn't really know about what we were doing.
So just sharing with them, the kind of work that we're doing kind of encourage them to help us out. And they were like, wow, the work that you guys are doing is really amazing. So we want to help and we want to help you guys make this ban possible. And so it was actually through working together that just very recently, we were able to pass a ban on single use plastics here in New Jersey.
This is very monumental because it's the strongest ban on plastics in the entire country. So it's a very historic bill that not only bans plastic bags, but also plastic straws, polystyrene foam service containers, and also takes money from the Clean Community Service Act and gives it to communities so that they can transition a way and help small businesses kind of move away from plastics and less inconvenient manner and make that long-term action truly impactful.
Congratulations. That is huge. How did you guys educate your community enough to pass that?
Yeah, so I don't want to, you know, like see that we claim all the credit for it. Like there have been a lot of environmental activists pushing for this across really the world and across the country. But what we've been doing here is through the educational webinars and the events that we did in person for the pandemic, we found that it was really helpful to, along with the problem at hand, people immediately get like, I guess, overwhelmed by seeing the statistics, you know, by 2050, if we don't act there's going to be more plastic in our oceans than fish.
I like just showing the scale. Sometimes it gets overwhelming. It gets like, okay, there's this giant issue, but what do I do next? You know, what can actually do about it? At that point we had to really like show them, no, you as a citizen, as a constituent, your voice matters. Call your representatives, let them know that you care.
This bill was really the result of people, power and people within the state saying, we want action. We called and emails and put pressure on legislators to vote yes on this bill. And we saw over whelming bipartisan support across parties across really all lines for it because they knew that even though they might not have personally supported it, most of their constituents did.
It was by sharing our experiences, whether it might be seeing plastic pollution on the beaches or on the roads by showing them that this is an issue that was kind of affecting our lives and affecting our health, even as plastic is harmful to our health microplastics are found in our food and all these issues we were able to push forward this change.
I think it's really important to show that along with the problem, there are steps that we can take to make a difference and as scary as it seems to solve these issues, it's really that together we can create change.
When you go to the grocery store...when we go to the grocery store, those of us who, who still are using plastic bags and stuff, and they, and we recycle the plastic bags, tell me about, is that even a good, I mean, I suppose recycling is better than throwing it in the landfill, but do you know what happens when you recycle Tell me the story, like the pros versus cons for those, for those of us are like, well, I recycled, so I did my part versus bringing a reusable bag.
Yeah. Sadly what happens with recycling, the sad reality is that 99% of the plastic items that we ended up putting into our recycling containers are kind of setting it over. They don't actually end up getting recycled. And that is just because of the failure of the recycling system here in the United States.
Very recently what happened or not too recently, but last year, what happened is that the US started sending over to China, all of our material that was supposed to be recycled. And so what happens is the developing communities and China are forced to face the brunt of our actions because they have all this waste leftover. And so they would resort to like incineration and harmful practices that would continue to cause climate change and global greenhouse gas emissions, and completely take away the purpose of recycling.
It's not that it's our fault for recycling. It's really the fault of, I guess, like our entire system for like telling us and encouraging us to recycle because the system hasn't really made that possible. If all items that were sent to be recycled, were actually ending up being transformed into a recycled product, that will be wonderful, but unfortunately it isn't the case that that's happening.
The best thing we can do as consumers is kind of step away from using plastics. But I also wanted to add that if you are like, reusing plastic bags from a grocery store, that is definitely a better step than buying like trash bags or like doing that kind of thing. I guess when you have that plastic bag, when you don't really have a choice to say no to it, you think of a next step as how can I be purposely or how can I be use it in my own life?
If you have a plastic bottle, why don't I use that in a creative way? I could make art, I could, you know, use what I have already to not let it go into a landfill or end up in my ocean or end up in the waterways. Um because this problem wouldn't exists if companies weren't producing plastics, right?
It's really important that we shift the blame away from ourselves as consumers and kind of saw this issue at its source by encouraging people to ban single use plastics, and then moving forward to ask companies and these big, like fast food, fast fashion, all these big companies to stop producing them and searching for alternatives.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is essentially the idea that the fashion industry is very wasteful and pretty soon a lot of waste as it goes. If you look at the statistics, they are one of the largest polluters in terms of how much carbon emissions that they're causing. And a lot of the products that you might get from larger fast fashion companies tend to be cheaper and cost less money. And that's because usually what's happening is first of all, the quality of the product, isn't that good. And they're kind of exploiting the labor of workers who are being severely underpaid, or maybe not even paid at all.
It's really important that we be conscious that the products that we're using might not be always what they seem and that so-called companies that might greenwash products and say, we have this sustainable clothing line.
Well, the products that they're putting out might not be as great as they seem. I like to always think of this as I would rather buy one great, good quality item that I can use for a long time versus a lot of not so great quality items. Looking for the reusable mason jars that I can use in my house, looking for a good quality product that I can continue to use for the rest of my life.
Really. I guess living in that lifestyle is a good way to think as a consumer, but ultimately keep in mind that it's not really our fault. It's the way that it's been marketed to us and influencing us that has caused all these mishaps to happen like recycling. We've always been taught that recycling is this great, amazing thing. That's going to help all of us. But in reality, it's just a way for us to avoid looking at this issue and stop producing these things.
Yes, recycle if you can, because you never know, especially with paper, it's much more of a viable way, but for plastics, ultimately the best way to go is just say no. When you go to the grocery store, bring a reusable bag with you.
Yeah, that's great. I often wonder when I'm putting my recycling out to the curb for the recycling people, where it actually goes, and I've always told myself, I need to follow through on that, but I have little faith and that it's, that it's all really being recycled because they don't even have a separate it.
Anyway, what if, what if it was just, if you had to choose between a bag and the offer do plastic or paper, which one would be better?
There's a lot that goes into this because if you look at it as to why plastic bags became even so popular is because they were the alternative to paper bags. You know, people were like, oh, no, paper is like really bad because paper bags are just basically cutting down trees and deforesting them and kind of what I was talking about before kind of mass producing these bags from living products.
And then plastic bags were a cheaper, better alternative that made sense. But the problem with plastics is that their entire life cycle is polluting from manufacturing them from petroleum to transporting them to consumers. And then finally as waste, they don't biodegrade. So in that sense, plastics are more harmful because paper bags can eat be like biodegraded in our environment, meaning that they break down and definitely much quicker than plastics do. So they wouldn't be like consumed by marine animals and kind of inject toxins into their bodies and then come through the food chain to us.
But at the same time, again, paper bags are just kind of a problem too, because it's a big deal that so many, like forests have been deforested by companies for paper bags and the fact that it is the life source that we're taking away and producing a paper bag, also causes three times the amount of energy as plastics.
So kind of just looking at that, it's like both are bad, you know? So in New Jersey we had the ban on plastics, includes paper bags and it's going to take effect in 18 months. It seems challenging. It seems like, what do we do now? You don't need something that we can be able to conveniently use. And it's really exciting to see that companies are finding new biodegradable ways to find a new material that we can use.
We can't just, I guess, encourage people to just completely change the habits. I think it's like slowly through advocacy and sort of creating this reuse revolution where we frame our conversations as why don't I reuse this item. I think that we'll really be able to create change. And then by that time, hopefully there will be more innovative and unique ways that technology allows us to think of better ways that we can use a product without harming our environment.
Yeah. Do you find that a lot of friends and people that you know are onboard with this and are you feeling like a lot of them are, you are not using single use plastics anymore?
I guess it really depends. So like right now, especially like convenience is still a pretty big problem with plastics where a lot of people just definitely want to use more because it's just easier for them. It's cheaper, it's more accessible. But I think the conversation is definitely changing where now people are definitely motivated to shift away from plastics because people like me and young people are saying that it is harmful.
And here's why, so I guess it's really what that person's priorities are. I can't say that everyone is doing a perfect job of it, but I think by slowly changing the conversation one step at a time more and more people are saying no and saying it isn't worth it. We can take these few steps as consumers to make a difference.
Yeah. As a, as a young person, what would you say that they should talk to their parents about that maybe their parents don't quite know in order to change the way they purchase things?
I would say that definitely sharing with them like your feelings first, obviously, and then definitely letting them know like the long-term implications of that as convenient as using plastic bag that day might seem look at what the long-term cost of that is. And then think about whether they're investing in a reusable bag is a good idea. You know, it's like if you have a reusable bag, you realize that once you get into the habit of using it, it really isn't that bad. It's like that first step you have to take.
What I do is like leaving a reusable bag in my car in case I would happen to forget it and then encouraging your parents to think a little bit more about the longterm impact again it can be difficult, especially like with that generational gap and like priority short-term versus long-term. But I think that what's really exciting is that our generation is realizing the environmental implications, which makes me hopeful that we'll continue to have these harder conversations with parents and adults.
Yes. Great, awesome.
This podcast is called GIRLBRAVE. What is your definition of being brave? And do you think you are brave?
That's a great question. I think being brave, you don't have to be like, I guess in the common sense, doing something that's never been thought of before, it could be the smallest thing that you are hesitant about or unsure about, but taking that step to say, wait a minute, I am capable. I can do this. And even though society might tell us, or people might say that it's a bad idea, or it's probably not worth it saying, wait a minute, it might be worth it. It might be worth my time.
And a, even if there's a chance that one person would end up listening to me or one thing that I could do, then I will take that step and take that action. So I think with being brave, you don't have to end up being a successful or amazing person. You just have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and open to change and open to doing something completely new.
Whether it be starting at an organization like I did, or just, I guess, doing something in your neighborhood or community that has never been done before, or you're you were hesitant about doing, or even speaking up about an issue that is important to you.
I like to think that being brave for me, kind of came out of a moment of caring about the planet and caring about my people and the community and wanting to make a difference. So, in that moment of caring and wanting change, I saw that kind of bravery manifest itself because I wanted to help my community and make a difference. And I was willing to step up as a leader and step up as someone who was against the status quo of a society, telling us that plastics are more convenient and advocating for change.
And that could be really in any way that you choose to step up in your community. But as long as you're doing something that you never imagined, or you never, I guess initially thought of yourself doing, you are brave and don't let anyone think of you otherwise.
Lovely. Thank you for that. And thank you so much for being caring. There's a lot of strife in this country and I think caring is what we need these days. So thank you for caring and caring for our environment and pushing it forward. How would someone start this organization in their own city or town if they don't have one yet?
That's a great question. You can go to ByeByePasticBags.org, and you can click a link to start a team. There's like a map on the website, and you can see like where there's already a team and if there's already a team there, then it's kind of even more amazing of a step for you because that means there's already youth pushing forward, so you get to be a part of that community and can go through the links to sign up there. But if you're not in a place where there's a team, then don't be afraid. You know, don't be afraid to step up and know that you can do it.
You can do it with even just, it could be you and a few people that you already know. You don't have to do something completely, I guess, remarkable to start a team. It's really one step at a time. When I first started a team, it was really just me and a few very close friends and family that I started it with, but now it has grown into something much larger.
And I think that over time, really anything is possible as we learn and grow and discover. So never feel afraid. And I definitely encourage you if you're listing to start a team, if this is something that you care about. And just in general, if there's an issue that you care about, definitely feel like you can turn organization or starting an initiative to create a lasting impact on that one cause.
Great. I will definitely put that link on the podcast page. Do you have time for a couple more quick questions?
Yeah, for sure.
Okay. So this is, these are just lighthearted questions. I think they're fun to ask. Which do you prefer jeans or leggings?
I prefer leggings just because I think they're a little bit more comfortable. I feel like jeans can be a little tight sometimes also in an environmental sense. Jeans like producing jeans uses up a lot of water, so much water it's like gallons and gallons. So I think in an environmental sense and also just convenience, comfort I definitely say leggings.
Do you know if the more expensive leggings are better for the made better for the environment than the cheaper leggings?
I think the best way to see this? I mean, definitely like if it's a very cheap product, you kind of are hesitant to see like, I guess where that product was produced and like what kind of labor was used to produce it. But I think it's more important that we researched that company and learn a little bit more about it.
A lot of huge companies out there that at first, when I was learning about fast fashion, I was so surprised like H & M they have this like initiative where you can donate your old clothes to the company, but it turns out that the product that you donate gets ends up being sold to developing countries.
And in those countries, they desperately try to sell some of those products to make profit. But if it's something that's old, they've been used, a lot of it ends up being wasted. And then what I talked about before incineration, which is causes their air quality to go down and the products that get burnt, they also end up causing dangerous, toxic emissions into the environment.
These great product lines and these great initiatives that meet might be like, 'Hey, I can get rid of my clothes, my old clothes and donate them to a good cause it might not be as great as it seemed.' It could be something like that. I think doing the research, I'm learning a little bit about these things will allow us to think of unique ways to step up and create a change if we use those products and those items that we already have in a more sustainable way, it would be so much better than kind of just getting them off our hands.
Definitely. Do you have a list of, of like a website that lists, which companies are doing good and which ones to avoid?
I don't have one off the top of my head, but there's Google out there. You know, it's really easy to find this information. We live in this very technological era and I guess this information is at our fingertips. So definitely, I would say a lot of environmental websites would have more information. There's a lot of organizations pushing forward, fast fashion pushing against fast fashion initiatives. So yeah, just doing a little bit of research. Definitely helpful.
Okay, Great. Thanks. Do you prefer salty or sweet?
I have a sweet tooth. I love sweet for sure.
Do you enjoy reading or Netflix ?
Reading for sure. I was, I've been a reader I learned to read when I was like three and it's just, I don't know. Like, I feel like when I read, I kind of, I'm able to like paint a picture in my mind. I know that some people are like, wait, what are you talking about? But I just love to like imagine and like create that moment, that special moment in my head. And I think that that's just something that I've loved to do, but that's not to say that I don't like Netflix. I always love to, you know, watch Netflix, my friends and things like that.
Can you recommend a book that you've recently read that you found exciting and you would like to recommend?
Yeah, so actually I haven't read it that recently, but this is one of my favorite books it's called the Little Prince it's basically an allegory and what's great about this book is that really anyone can read it a very young child or an adult. And it's basically talking about the story of someone who was stranded on in the middle of the desert and they met this little prince that came from another star, another universe.
And it's just this very like silly story, but it also has a much deeper meaning about what it means to be young, what it means to be old and how throughout our lives, we keep changing and growing. I think that book really allowed me to reflect about a little bit more about my life and what we, our perception of being younger and older. And I really enjoyed that book.
Great. Thank you. Who do you admire most and why?
This is a hard question? Because there's so many people in both in my life and just like people outside of my life that I just like heard about and learned about that. I look up to if I had to say one person, I guess on the topic of environmentalism and kind of what we're, we've been talking about, someone that I've definitely looked up to for a very long time is Jane Goodall and her work that she's done for researching about chimpanzees and learning about how we can live hand in hand with nature.
I think it really shows us that, you know, these animals that we kind of have exploited for a long time are, have so much emotion and have so much value and so much potential within them that we kind of forget, forget or shrug off. And it's really important that we show that we can live hand in hand with our planet, which has really allowed us to live our lives this way, rather than against it, because there is no planet B there's nowhere else for us to go.
This is the planet we have and we have to foster our lives in it. So I just always been fascinated by her story and the work that she's done as well as being a woman in a field where she had to face so many setbacks and challenges, and she was really unstoppable and she continued to persevere and share her message of environmentalism and promoting living hand-in-hand with nature.
Yes, she's absolutely amazing. I agree. My last question is what superpower would you like to have?
I think about this a lot. I feel like I would love to fly. Like I think it would just be so amazing to like see the world from above it because I guess like, as people, I get caught up in the small moments and like, I guess like the closeup view, but I think it'd be really cool to get the bird's eye view of the entire world and just like feel myself be free and flying. I think that would be a very, very special thing. So I'd say flying.
Nice. Well, that is all I have for you today. I could talk to you for hours about all the things that you know, you're very brilliant and well, well educated in your field. What's next for you?
Right now. I'm actually going through the process of applying to colleges and just actually trying to figure out what is next, what I want to do. And the answer to that really is I have no idea, you know, I kind of just want to kind of explore with an open mind and be open to anything outside of environmentalism, have a lot of other interests too.
But right now I'm leaning towards I'm pursuing something along the lines of environmental engineering. I go to an engineering high school and I've always found it fascinating to the idea of like designing and creating the systems that can improve society and build a better world. So I'm hoping that that's the direction that I can go in, but I'm open to change and I'm open to something completely new that might end up being my calling.
I love it. I have to ask you another question now that you said engineering there isn't a lot of women that go into engineering. Right? Tell me how, how could we change that? Like what, what stories can we tell young girls to get them interested in trying it?
Yeah, I think what's amazing is right now it's definitely gotten so much better and there's so many more women and minority groups going into engineering. And I think it's just, just looking at the progress that we've made over the last decade and couple of decades. It's really nice to see.
I know from even for me, like at a high school in the United States, that's focused on engineering you'd think, you know, probably the gender gap wouldn't be bad, especially in high school, but in my grade there were at least two or three times the number of boys than girls in each grade in my school. And that's just because of the lack of, I guess, women seeing themselves in a career in engineering.
I really want to tell like young girls and women, that there is no reason for you to be afraid or be worried about going into this field. It's definitely something that isn't as common, but it's been done before and more and more women are stepping up.
Once we are able to kind of pass these gaps and make it possible that less and less of these barriers, then we'll continue to pave the way for a more equal world. I like to think that, you know, we are a part of shifting the dialogue and shifting it away from being about gender inequality in this field and making it a more equal one, not just engineering, but also within STEM fields.
Awesome. Thank you.
Yeah. Thank you so much as well.
This is so great. I wish you all the luck and keep being awesome. Thank you.
Thank you so much for joining me on the GIRLBRAVE podcast. If you'd like an encouraging daily text message. Remember I send those out every day? Yes! And you'll never know when you get it because it comes at a new time every day. Go to my website at Pincurl Girls that's PINCURLGIRLS. And click on the top where it says encouraging text messages.