Karina Samuel: Saying “Bye Bye” to Plastic Bags and “Hello” to Environmental JusticeFebruary 8, 2023
By Ishan Kapur, 2023 Future Blue Youth Council member
Growing up in a fence-line community in South Florida, Karina Samuel witnessed the rise in the number of natural disasters that communities like hers face each year. Nearly five years ago, she attended her first beach clean-up in her hometown. After spending the day picking up hundreds of pounds of plastic bags, fishing lines, and food containers, the team wrapped up with a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. But Karina couldn’t stop thinking of all the waste they hadn’t gotten to and spent several extra hours scouring the sand. Even when her mother finally dragged her back home, she knew that her job was far from done.
So, in 2018, she launched the Florida chapter of Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB), a youth-led global organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the harmful impact of plastic on the environment. The group is headquartered in Bali, Indonesia, and has chapters all over the globe. Initially, BBPBF was singularly focused on plastic waste reduction, but they soon learned that pollution was far from the only environmental problem. Over time, they transformed BBPBF into an intersectional activist group that, in addition to conducting cleanups, also concentrated on eco-racism, climate justice, and pro-environmental policymaking. Growing into a team of 70 volunteers across Miami, Tampa, and Key West, Florida, they learned to tackle environmental issues from multiple angles and used their interdisciplinary message to recruit new members.
To ensure the longevity and resiliency of BBPBF, Karina applied to Bow Seat’s Fellowship Grant Program, an initiative created and led by the Future Blue Youth Council that provides mentorship and funding to youth who are developing projects that address environmental challenges in their local communities. Karina received $1,500 USD to support the organization’s future goals. Thanks to the Fellowship Grant, members of BBPBF will be able to travel to Indonesia and India, two hubs of the global BBPB movement, and organize clean-up efforts at the Kuta Beach and the Ganges River, respectively. With the support of this grant, they will also be able to ensure that their clean-up efforts are truly sustainable, using canvas bags rather than plastic garbage bags, and reusable gloves rather than disposable ones.
Karina is planning to broaden the reach of their organization even further by running three distinct environmental conventions across the LA County Area for Bye Bye Plastic Bags International members. They will be hosting young people from around the world and organizing talks by founders of other environmental nonprofits, such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition and TreePeople. In addition to talks and panel discussions, they will also be running a beach clean-up and a corresponding brand-auditing event, through which they will be analyzing data on the trash collected and ascertaining which companies are the largest polluters in the region. This addition to a regular beach clean-up can help further expand the conversation about plastic pollution, shifting the focus from individual acts alone. They will also be organizing an environmental justice workshop during their convention.
Turning a feeling of personal unease about plastic waste into a global project of this scale is undoubtedly a great feat, but Karina explains that she is driven by a sense of duty. Given that the brunt of environmental degradation is borne by the least privileged communities in our world, Karina believes that people in a position of privilege have a responsibility to fight the climate inequities that marginalized people face. Her story is inspiring for those who want to make a difference, as it proves that the seed of an idea can turn into a massive tree, whose impact branches out to reach thousands.
If you’re inspired, now’s the time to take the step to shape and save YOUR local bodies of water. Bow Seat’s Fellowship Grant Program is the best place to start. Not only are there resources and toolkits for you to kickstart your program, but should financial difficulties be your biggest barrier toward creating change, Bow Seat is eager to fund dedicated projects from all over the world.