When Amy and Ella Meek saw the extent of plastic pollution, they decided to do something about it. Read about the sisters’ five year journey in this Circular Pioneer extract to discover the story of Kids Against Plastic.
Amy and Ella Meek’s list of life achievements would be impressive even if the pair weren’t still at school.
When they were 12 and 10 respectively, they set up the charity Kids Against Plastic, which educates children about waste pollution and campaigns for the responsible use of plastic. They have also given TED Talks, addressed the United Nations, and were even recognised in the 2022 New Year’s Honours list with a British Empire Medal.
“It’s all been a bit crazy and unexpected,” says Amy, with a humility that typifies both teenagers’ responses.
Kids Against Plastic came about in 2017 after Amy and Ella had been studying the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals. “There was this common thread of plastic pollution running through so much of it, so we decided to do some research,” recalls Ella. “That’s when we found out about the scale of this issue. No one was really speaking about it,” she says.
Once we’d seen how bad the situation was, we couldn’t just turn a blind eye to it.
That’s certainly not the case in 2022. Plastic pollution is now a dinner-table conversation topic, taught at schools, and discussed at the highest level of politics. Do Amy and Ella, now aged 18 and 16, recognise that’s in some part down to them?
“Once we’d seen how bad the situation was, we couldn’t just turn a blind eye to it. We had to do something,” Ella says.
Amy adds: “Something we noticed when we first started out was the mismatch between plastic the material, with its amazing properties that have changed the world, and the way in which it’s being used – especially in single-use items that we throw away after five minutes.”
This is a point the girls are keen to stress: they are not campaigning for it to be outlawed or replaced, just used more responsibly. “Sometimes, the name of our charity can give the wrong impression,” Amy says.
“What we really mean is kids against single-use plastic. But, in fact, it’s even more nuanced than that – places such as hospitals still need disposable plastic to create a sterile environment, for example. We are all about trying to find solutions; cutting out the unnecessary use of plastic and using it for the good purposes it was originally intended for.”
Kids Against Plastic started out as a litter-picking organisation. “It was something immediate; something that let us see the effect we were having,” Ella recalls. “But we realised that, when we picked litter, we’d go back a few days later and there’d just be a new load of litter. It had been completely replaced. That’s when we realised, we needed to try to help cut plastic from the source.”
Plastic Clever is all about reducing our use of plastic in four key areas: single-use cups, straws, bottles, and bags.
Amy and Ella came up with the Plastic Clever initiative, recognising that going plastic free in today’s world is neither practical nor achievable. “Plastic Clever is all about reducing our use of plastic in four key areas: single-use cups, straws, bottles, and bags,” Ella explains. “It’s amazing how reducing some items, in particular, can have a big impact – more than you might think.
“Plastic Clever can be adopted by individuals, families, companies, festivals, and schools. It’s really a great starting point for taking a stand against single-use plastic and allowing you to think about what else you might be able to cut out, too.”
Since the early days of litter picking and local activism, Ella and Amy have taken their message to ever larger stages and audiences, speaking at conferences and influencing decision-makers, and even publishing books. They’ve toured schools all around Britain, recruiting more children to the cause – and have collected an estimated 100,000 pieces of litter along the way.
Amy and Ella are keen to keep kids firmly at the centre of their organisation. “If we start with young children who have energy and passion and a drive to learn how to protect the environment, that is a very powerful thing, you know?” Amy says.
She continues: “That’s why the Plastic Clever school’s initiative, in particular, is a really big focus for us. Not only because of the potential that schools have for reducing the waste they produce but also because they can really educate and empower the next generation of consumers, who are hopefully going to grow up with more awareness of the impact they’re having on the planet.”
By their own admission, the Meek sisters are now “pushing the boundaries of what can be considered kids”. Are they thinking of handing the baton on to younger hands?
“You know, funnily enough, that is the long-term plan for the charity,” Amy laughs. “Not any time soon, because we are very engaged in it, but we don’t want it to be something that just fizzles out as we get older. Hopefully, it’s something that can be passed on to the next generation, who can make their own mark. But that’s a long way away, not soon.”
We were really inspired by other young people when we were setting this up, so maybe we can inspire others too who will do something similar.
Ella adds: “Kids are now a lot more educated on these issues, but it can be hard to know where to start. You can be really passionate, but not see what impact you can make. So that’s what we are really trying to work on through Kids Against Plastic – showing young people that they do have a voice and they can be really empowered.
“We were really inspired by other young people when we were setting this up, so maybe we can inspire others too who will do something similar.”
With Amy planning to start university in the autumn, and Ella in the first year of sixth form, the girls’ thoughts have naturally begun to turn to the future. Has the experience with Kids Against Plastic informed them on what they want to do in their future lives?
“Absolutely,” Ella says. “I’m really interested in human rights and how that links to sustainability. That’s something I’d like to study in depth, I think.”
“I’m keen to focus on wider sustainability, especially environmental policy or journalism,” adds Amy. “We’ve had so many amazing experiences with Kids Against Plastic. It’s given us so many views of ways to be involved in each of these different specialities. It’s really hard to narrow things down.”
Whatever Amy and Ella eventually end up doing, it is pretty certain we will be hearing a lot more from the Meek sisters in the years ahead.