Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! Interview with Saanya Bhargava

By Victoria Feng, Editor-in-Chief

 

When she was in high school, Saanya Bhargava started Impact Gravitas, which helps advocate against plastic pollution.  Impact Gravitas has created a number of projects that focus on sustainable straw usage and responsible recycling.  For her advocacy, Saanya was named as Teen Vogue’s 21 under 21 2018 change makers.  Read on to find out more about his story.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to research about Impact Gravitas?

Saanya Bhargava (SB): In 3rd grade at Singapore American School, my eyes widened hearing Mrs. Burnett talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the plastic soup circulating our oceans. After school, when I asked my best friend if we could go swimming at the beach next to her apartment, she warned against it due to the hazardous trash and oil from the cargo ships constantly floating along the bay. Then nine years later, when I pushed off the dock on my paddleboard into shimmering Lake Austin, I didn’t get far before feeling styrofoam cups and plastic bottles brush against my ankles. It was very unsettling to see the Austin community – known for its eco-friendliness – lose its environmental consciousness. These experiences have activated my conviction to gain a deeper understanding of this issue of planetary proportions and develop initiatives to solve plastic pollution in my hometown. Therefore, I started impact.gravitas, a youth organization focused on increasing awareness and developing collaborative solutions for plastic pollution.

(AK): What was the most challenging part of working on the organization?

(SB): One of impact.gravitas’ main action projects in is the “Strawless Austin” initiative, motivating local restaurants to switch from using single-use plastic straws to eco-friendly alternatives. The most challenging part of the work we do in impact.gravitas is getting businesses on board with this; many restaurants struggle to capture financial benefits from their sustainability efforts. However, offering sustainable straws only to customers that request them reduces the overall consumption and offsets some of the increase in cost for the business. We emphasize benefits like these to enable restaurants to make eco-friendly choices and attract sustainable consumers.

(AK): Why is plastic pollution a huge problem?

Plastic is a material that we use every single day whether we realize it or not. This is because it is convenient, disposable, cheap, and durable. However, we rarely think about what happens to plastic after we dispose it. We think when we throw away plastic products, we are done and that they just disappear. The truth is less than 10% of plastic actually gets recycled and every piece of plastic has ever been produced still exists on earth because it takes 450-1000 years to degrade. If we don’t do anything now, then there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. We can see that plastic is being ingested by all sea animals from plankton to fish to whales. With one billion people relying on the seafood as their main source of protein, we have to realize that if this trend continues, humans are going to be the victim of the problem that we started in the first place.

(AK): Can you explain some of the projects Impact Gravitas is doing?

(SB): Austin needs broader adoption of alternatives to single-use plastics. We have developed many action projects for our school and community. The “Sustainable Chaps” initiative promotes responsible recycling and composting in our school cafeterias and has enabled us to drive a change in students’ recycling behavior. To measure the impact of this project, we conducted a statistical study to test the significance and found that we improved mismanaged waste by 30 percent. The “Playing with Plastic” initiative created a seven-foot art piece from 180 discarded plastic bottles that was shaped like a jellyfish. Hanging in the courtyard in the middle of our school, the exhibit was a constant reminder of the impact of plastic pollution on marine life. On a broader scale, impact.gravitas has also started a “Strawless Austin” campaign, motivating local restaurants to switch from using single-use plastic straws to eco-friendly alternatives. I am currently working to source eco-friendly straws that local restaurants can adopt in a cost-effective manner. The production of these straws would also provide employment opportunities for women living in poverty. These projects have driven a noticeable change in the consumption of single-use plastics at my high school and in the city of Austin.

(AK): What do you view as your greatest accomplishment?

(SB): While I personally have been fighting the impact of plastic pollution, I believe that there is power in a collective voice. Using my social media platforms to spread awareness and getting other youth engaged in this issue through impact.gravitas are what I view as my biggest accomplishment.

(AK): If you could change any single thing in the world, what would you change?

(SB): Consuming single-use plastics has become societal addiction. Over 8 million tons of plastic leak into the oceans every year, eventually entering our food chain. If I could change one thing about our world, I would change the way that humans look at environmental issues; they should not be brushed off or disagreed upon. Our future relies on this planet.

(AK): What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

(SB): My experience has given me insight on the power of youth activism. The ideas and aspirations of our generation, the brightest minds of the future, should not be as undermined as they are now. Our voices deserve to be heard, because after all, this planet is going to be handed to us very soon. I truly believe that boldness, collaboration, and humility are the three principles that youth should embody in their endeavors in activism and advocacy. Everyone has a legacy…what’s yours?

(AK): What are your goals for the future?

(SB): I am a senior in high school and am about to head off to college for an undergraduate degree. In next couple of years, I hope to bring impact.gravitas to the college I attend and expand the organization’s initiatives. I also plan to bring together and mobilize more like-minded students and continue being a voice for this issue that I care so deeply about.

(AK): Do you have anything else to add?

(SB): This journey has been one that has been unimaginable: I never would have thought that I would be able to influence and make tangible changes at such a young age. It’s taught me so youth empowerment and how it applies to my values; I am grateful to have had these experiences during my teenage years.