It has always been Maine’s young people that have spoken up the loudest for us to address the problems of plastic pollution. Maya Faulstich, a student at Yarmouth’s Frank Harrison Middle School, is one of those passionate young Mainers who is trying to raise awareness and she’s turned this passion into an award-winning presentation for National History Day that’s worth a view!
Her video “A Climate Carol” explores the history of plastics and the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to avoid responsibility for cleaning up their mess. Maya won first place in the Maine Natural History Day contest junior individual performance category and second place in the national competition!
Was there a personal experience that first got you interested in the problem of plastic? What motivates you to do this work?
I am motivated to act on the climate crisis because it affects our health, our planet, and our way of life. I love nature and spending time outside, so I get really sad when I see trash in the ocean and on the ground. When I learned that litter is only half the story, I got really interested in the harmful effects of plastic that we’re not taught about, like how the actual production of plastic is harmful to the air we breathe, and how there are chemicals in plastic that are harmful to our bodies.
I tried living one day without using plastic, and that experience really opened my eyes to how much plastic we actually use, and how hard it is not to use plastic. It’s everywhere!
I’ve always been told that it was my responsibility as an individual not to litter and to recycle, and that if everyone as individuals fulfilled their responsibilities, then climate change would not be a problem. When I learned that we can’t solve the plastic problem without the industries changing their ways, that was what gave me the inspiration to create this project. I wanted to educate others about the need for producer responsibility through history.
Your video is such a creative, powerful way to communicate a complex issue. Why did you choose a performance for this project?
I chose to do a performance because I wanted my project to have a storytelling feel. Since A Christmas Carol is a play, I wanted to hold true to that style in my project, and once I knew I would follow the format of A Christmas Carol, a performance was the best option for me. I also love acting, and it is my favorite way to express passion for the things I care about. Most people are used to reading papers and websites, but a performance allowed me to unleash my creativity and the performance style also made it a lot more enjoyable.
What do you hope people who see the video take away from it?
I hope that people will learn that picking up litter and putting plastic in the recycle bin is like trying to mop up water from a faucet that is on full blast. What we really need to do is turn off the faucet before we mop up all the water; We need to stop creating plastic before we clean it all up. We can do this through education and legislation. I hope that people can start having conversations and finding ways to get involved by writing to legislators
You obviously worked hard researching for this project. What really surprised you as you did this work that you didn’t know before?
It was surprising and disheartening to learn how much the industries tried to hide, and how Keep America Beautiful has historically pushed false solutions such as the idea of picking up litter and recycling being sufficient to solve our plastic problem. I was also surprised when I learned that Keep America Beautiful doesn’t support bottle bills, which have shown to be effective in reducing litter and increasing recycling rates.
What message do you want to send to the corporations and plastic industry responsible for creating all this plastic pollution?
I want industries to realize that consumers cannot solve this problem alone. There is a reason that reduce comes first in the saying “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We can’t go on like this forever. We will continue to make progress, and they can either keep fighting us or they can help us. Ultimately, we all share this planet, and if they want to keep it and everyone on it safe, we need their cooperation.
Why is it important for Maine to act to reduce plastic pollution through laws like EPR for packaging, the ban on single-use plastic bags, and other efforts?
Laws like these can help prevent plastic from ending up in our environment, incentivize companies to use less packaging, and keep toxic chemicals out of our bodies. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) makes the producers pay for the disposal of their packaging instead of taxpayers, so it will save taxpayer money and incentivize companies to use less packaging.
The bag ban in Maine makes single-use plastic shopping bags illegal for stores and supermarkets to give out, so we won’t always have all these annoying plastic bags hanging around and clogging landfills and oceans! Maine also has a bottle bill, which increases recycling rates by putting a refund on bottles. A bottle bill is now being proposed nationally, which if it passes, could prevent millions of single-use plastic bottles from entering our environment and harming wildlife.
What tips do you have for Mainers who want to reduce their plastic footprint?
For people who want to get involved, start by taking note of all the plastic things you use in a day. Once you start paying attention, you will notice it everywhere. Then start replacing plastic things you use with reusables and refillables. Start having conversations with your friends, neighbors, and family about alternatives to plastic, and encourage them to get involved, too! Talk to local stores and businesses about how they can reduce their plastic footprint, too, and stay open.
Most importantly, learn about bills you can support (such as the National Bottle Bill, EPR for Packaging, Bans on single-use plastic, etc,) and write to your legislators telling them to support these bills. Legislation is crucial if we want to solve the plastic problem. None of us can do this alone.
Want to hear more about Maya’s work? View a video interview with Maya and her teacher Charlotte Agell by Maine Natural History Day State Coordinator John Taylor.
—Chrissy Adamowicz, NRCM Sustainable Maine Outreach Coordinator