Be a Planet Superhero

How big of an impact can teens have on protecting the Earth? Huge. Meet three making a mega difference—you can too!

“I advocate to protect the outdoors that I love.”

Climate change is a hot political topic, but it ended up being a science class that opened Jai Bansal’s eyes to the issue. “I had a teacher who taught us all about climate change—why it’s prevalent and how it’s affecting the environment,” says the high school senior. The lesson blew Jai away. “I felt so naïve. This massive issue is affecting our world. I felt like I needed to do something.”

Soon after, Jai learned that his local state representative was also interested in climate issues. Jai approached her and asked how he could help. A month later, he got his chance: The rep was holding the first-ever climate change hearing in Idaho—and she wanted Jai to make the closing remarks! “I made my speech about how climate change is affecting our state in ways we can relate to,” Jai says. “I talked about how many of us love to hike, throw a Frisbee, and ski, and how climate change could affect these things. We all need to fight to protect our home.”

“We got all of the schools in our area to ban plastic water bottles.”

Growing up near the Pacific Ocean, Jackson Hinkle has always had a love of surfing. He rides the waves almost every day, but the polluted waters sometimes get in the way of the sport. “There are days when the beach is so littered with trash that you can’t surf for fear of getting sick. That shouldn’t be,” says Jackson.

During his junior year of high school, Jackson decided to start Team Zissou, a school environmental club. Jackson expected maybe a handful of students to show up to the first meeting. Instead, more than 200 came. Team Zissou’s mission came together quickly: Do as much as possible to make a difference for the environment.

Campaigning to reduce the use of plastic has been a priority for Team Zissou. “We’ve armed about 150 kids with reusable, affordable water bottles and got our school to add two water bottle filling stations around our campus,” says Jackson. The group has also convinced the district to ban the sale of plastic water bottles throughout all 64 of its public schools.

Next, Jackson plans to develop a network of young people around the country who can run for political office to help spread the message about saving the environment. He says that he’s even considering running for city council one day!

“I’m recycling something you’d never expect!”

It's no secret that plastic water bottles and shopping bags can pose a risk to the planet. But Danielle Rothchild recognized another plastic that usually flies under the radar: bread tags, those small squares that keep bags closed. “I saw someone throw a few bread tags in the trash and thought: I can make a dress out of those!”

That idea wasn’t as far-fetched as it might sound: A fashion lover and avid recycler, Danielle had already made one dress out of shower poufs and another out of cupcake liners. “I started collecting tags and ended up using about 5,000 of them to make a dress,” says the high school senior. But Danielle still had 40,000 bread tags left, so she went online to research what she could do with them. She discovered a foundation in South Africa started by an 80-year-old woman, Mary Honeybun, who took bread tags to a recycling plant and used the money she collected to buy wheelchairs for people. Danielle contacted Mary on Facebook, asking if she could start a similar program in the U.S. That’s how her nonprofit organization, Danielle Cares for Chairs, was born.

Since August 2016, Danielle has amassed nearly two million tags from businesses like the Cleveland Indians, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Five Guys, and Dairy Queen. That’s allowed her to buy one wheelchair and two adapted ride-on devices for children, with more on the way. Says Danielle: “I just want to make a difference in the world.”

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