Hannah Testa: Georgia teen campaigns against plastic pollution

Most teens dream of a vacation relaxing on the sunny beaches of Hawaii.

Hannah Testa picked up trash during a Kids Speak for Parks Beach Cleanup.

Testa, a sophomore at West Forsyth High School, is the founder of Hannah4Change, a nonprofit that fights for the protection of animals and the environment.

"The beach was covered in plastic that had washed ashore," said Testa, who was there with friends filming a video to be used at an Ocean Heroes Bootcamp in Vancouver this summer. "We saw different types, shapes, colors and sizes. It was really disgusting to see that firsthand."

She said while plastic items may enter the ocean as large pieces, they can break down over time to become very fine microplastics.

At 16, she’s already thinking about the inheritance that she will leave her children and her children’s children.

“There are so many issues around the globe,” she said. “Animals are becoming extinct. The weather is changing. There’s deforestation and destruction of natural habitats. We all live on the planet, and as young people, we’re going to inherit this planet with all its problems.”

Experts warn that efforts must be made to limit global warming to moderate levels by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint.

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Testa wants to give young people a voice at the table.

“There’s not much of a future at all if we don’t speak up,” she said. She wants to educate consumers and businesses about the perils of harming the Earth.

One area that she feels passionately about is plastic pollution, which is choking oceans and marine life around the world. She once dressed from head to toe in plastic to show how much single-use plastic one person can use annually in shopping bags alone.

According to the journal Science, between 4.8 million metric tons and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic finds its way into oceans each year. That’s expected to double in the next 10 years. This doesn’t even include plastic that is recycled, incinerated or goes to a landfill.

Want to know how serious that is?

Just recently, a whale washed ashore in the Philippines with nearly 90 pounds of plastic trash in its stomach. Experts said it died from gastric shock, dehydration and starvation.

And who can forget that horrifying video of a group of researchers in in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose?

Chris Testa said his daughter “has touched so many lives. She wants to make sure that if she has kids or grandkids that they see the same beauty she sees. She’s helped the environment and so many animals. “

Her work is getting attention.

Several years ago, she worked with Georgia Sen. Michael Williams to proclaim Feb. 15, 2017, as “Plastic Pollution Awareness Day” at the state Capitol, among the first of its kind nationwide. Plastic Pollution Awareness Day was repeated this year with state Sen. Nan Orrock.

In 2017, Testa spoke at a United Nations World Oceans Day program. And just recently, she was in Brunei, where she spoke during an opening session on climate change.

She was named Teen Earth Day Hero by CNN and received the Young Superhero for Earth Award from the Captain Planet Foundation.

Testa, a vegan, was among five Gen Z youths selected by Kashi to create a new cereal line for kids by kids. The Kashi items were organic, non-GMO foods. The Kashi Crew, as they were called, created everything from the flavors, to the names, cereal shapes and the packaging. It later expanded into a line of snack bites.

Her interest in the environment began years ago, inspired in part by her parents, Farida and Chris Testa, who instilled in Hannah and her brother, Adam, the importance of being good caretakers of the planet. They cleaned up beaches and participated in marches. When she was 5, Testa gave seeds to her classmates so they could start their own organic gardens.

Testa recalls watching the documentary “Plastic Paradise,” in which journalist Angela Sun travels to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in Midway Atoll, which is ground zero for garbage from several continents.

Testa began a campaign in her school at the time to reduce single-use plastic and to get rid of plastic straws.

“It’s really inspirational to see so many young people realize they have a voice and a duty to speak up,” she said. “We are sick and tired of being pushed in a corner and told to wait your turn. This isn’t a partisan issue. This planet is our inheritance.”

Chris Testa said his daughter “has touched so many lives. She’s helped the environment and so many animals. We planted the seeds, but Hannah took it from there. You could almost tell when she was a baby that she was going to be a leader.”


Throughout March, we’ll spotlight notable women with Georgia connections in the daily Living section on Mondays and Tuesdays. Go to ajc.com/womens-history/ to see videos on the women featured here each week.