Ocean Heroes features stories of people from all around the world who deeply care about our nature, our health, and our planet's future. Down-to-earth people who decided to change the way they do laundry not because it's easier but because filtering microplastics is the right thing to do.
So one day we received this email. You know, the kind that you can't help but read twice because it is just so unlike any other emails you'd normally be receiving.
'Hi, We thought you’d want to see our new video about the solution to microfibres. We recently purchased your washing machine filter to make our video, and couldn’t find your company on Twitter. We haven’t set up Instagram yet!
Or go to Hidden Plastic (hiddenplastic.org) and scroll to the NEW button next to “The Problem with Washing Machines”.
Best wishes, Diahann (mum), Zara & Ashton'
Not only did it make our day, we certainly wanted to see their new video and we definitely wanted to meet these people!
You should meet them, too! In fact, everyone should. Two siblings from England, Zara aged twelve and her younger brother eleven, are an inspiration to all of us. They set up www.hiddenplastic.org, an organisation that helps educate on the invisible microfiber pollution. Short, funny, highly insightful videos, featuring their mascot Sea chicken (yes, right😊) and exposing the viewers to different angles of pollution and respective solutions. The determination and focus, passion for the environment and a contagious optimism cannot go by unnoticed. Clever, witty and on a mission – meet Zara and Ashton, who we have talked with recently via zoom.
PlanetCare: Tell us a little bit about yourselves – who are you and what motivates you?
Zara: I’m really passionate about the ocean. My favourite animal is the manta ray, and when I am older I hope to be a marine biologist. I am also into learning about natural fibers at the moment and more sustainable textiles. There's a book I've been reading called ‘Fibershed’, and that has been really inspirational to me. I would also like to learn more about sustainable textiles.
Ashton: I am also very passionate about the ocean, and my favourite animal is a hawksbill turtle.
I think it is great to add a bit of funniness to activism, because it can be very serious and distressing sometimes and it is important to have a laugh. We use surreal elements in our videos, so it can still be funny even though it's a dark subject. I'm also into making music and digital art, plus enjoy building things.
PlanetCare: When was it that you became environmentally conscious? In general and about microfibres in particular?
Zara: I can't really remember. There must have been a point. I think probably when I was about eight… I decided to be a marine biologist then.
Ashton: Because we've had opportunity to see the ocean firsthand and experience ocean life in its own habitat, probably.
PlanetCare: It seems more obvious to be conscious about the visible plastic waste in the oceans. But what made you alert about the invisible microplastics, and the microfibers? How did you notice the hidden pollution?
Ashton: It was from this great BBC documentary series ‘War on Plastic’. They were explaining things about microplastics to help to get people to reduce plastics in the oceans. They were even taking samples of the air and found microfibres. Then they were taking samples from washing machines and found lots of microfibres. They said there was no way for people to filter their water from washing machines, and how there was no solution. But now there is!
Zara: Also there is 5 Gyres organisation that helped us learn a lot about microplastics (we are family ambassadors now). They did lots of research in the oceans to find out how much microplastics are in the ocean and where they are going, which comes together in big patches of plastic called gyres.
Ashton: And our campaign got started by joining Ocean Heroes with other kids from around the world. Our first bootcamp was in 2020, a virtual camp, and it is where you meet up with other activists through Zoom calls and exchange knowledge in squads using Slack. It is a really great system.
Zara: Yes, it gets you started by choosing to create a campaign meaningful to you.
PlanetCare: How did you find out about us and our filters?
Ashton: On the internet. We searched for a solution, for a microfiber filter and there you were! And we've been using the filter since we filmed our video (sea chicken magically installed it!).
PlanetCare: Great, glad you found us! So… if we turn to your goals… What are your short term goals and action plan?
Zara: We're working on the next video for our website. And we would like our Parliament to pass the proposed bill to make washing machine filters mandatory in new ones, so we wrote a few e-mails to our MP. They haven't responded to us yet, but we hope the video can help to get that bill passed. It is definitely one of our goals!
Ashton: And another thing we'd like to do is to get PepsiCo to respond to a great initiative and sponsor some Ocean Cleanup Interceptors. We hope they will match Coca-Cola’s 15 that they have pledged to support. It would be pretty exciting if these two companies battled for eco-status! They have big budgets for environmental projects, so we think they should use it to help turn off the tap of plastic that goes into the oceans.
PlanetCare: What about your long-term action plan?
Zara: Long-term… we would just like to educate as many people as we can about the dangers of microplastics, which are mostly hidden plastics.
Ashton: We are quite busy focusing on one year's time, so we don't have many long term goals yet. But as the time goes by, I am sure we'll have many new ones because the problem is really, really big. When we were deciding to name our campaign either 'Plastic Breakdown' or 'Hidden Plastic' (I was for Hidden Plastic and Zara was for Plastic Breakdown), we chose by the best way to decide – rock, paper, scissors😊. So we then called our organisation Hidden Plastic!
PlanetCare: Since you have started working on your mission, have you noticed any change in awareness or in behaviour among your friends and peers? Is your work contagious?
Zara: Oh, you know… it's had an influence on some of them, but not the others. And we've had some join the Ocean Heroes, which made them more aware and interested. Now we also plan to do a one-day course for kids, just to help educate them about hidden plastics a bit more.
PlanetCare: Are you looking forward to next summer camp again? Would you prefer it to be held on-line?
Zara: Yes:)! On-line is better, because more people can join then if it were in person… It brings kids together from all around the world. And there's one thing that has not been announced yet, but the organisers asked us to be youth ambassadors of The Captain Planet Foundation’s new Planeteer Alliance. And that's really great, we think!
PlanetCare: Congratulations, wonderful! So from Captain Planet to your mascot - how did you come up with the sea chicken idea? The chicken not being a typical sea animal😊?
Ashton: That was really unplanned. But here's the story – a very long time ago we found this chicken hat in our house. And when we were doing our first video for seabirds we were looking for a seabird costume and all we could find in an hour was this chicken hat. So we made a seabird costume with a chicken head and hoped that no one would notice 😊. Later on that day our video was featured on the Ocean Heroes Daily Dive and they announced it as a ‘sea chicken’ …and our mascot was born.
PlanetCare: So what's his next assignment?
Zara: We are not sure about the sea chicken, but for our next video we plan to redo the Pepsico video and maybe include sea chicken in that?
Ashton: There's this really funny story about making our washing machine filter video – when we were filming, the sea chicken was in the washing machine and I was supposed to get it out and then I accidentally hit the start button with my elbow and the chicken was stuck in the washing machine! So we had to quickly get it out and it was pretty soggy…
PlanetCare: Well, luckily it survived!:) One final question for you… What is your message to us, to our readers, to the world?
Ashton: Stay hopeful.
Zara: Yes, stay hopeful. And keep going. We hope more people find out about PlanetCare as it is such a good product!
Ashton: And my message to any kid – do an Ocean Heroes Bootcamp if you want to help and join other kids. It is great to see just how quickly people come just from being on a Zoom call to starting their own campaign. And it really grows each year! It is an amazing experience.
PlanetCare: Thank you – for this interview and for the great work you are doing. Keep it up!