Sunday Conversation with Hannah Testa

Teen wants everyone to treat Earth they way they’d want to be treated

Hannah Testa has been an environmentalist and animal rights activist most of her life — all 13 years of it. At 4, she lamented how people prefer plastic to reusable shopping bags. “I told my mom that no one cares about the planet except us,” the Cumming teenager says. In the years since, Hannah has made people care. She has raised money for animal causes and given presentations on how people can curb their use of plastic. She has been honored for her efforts, time and again. This year, Hannah was recognized by the Georgia Senate and received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the Pioneer of Sustainability award from Ted’s Montana Grill. She is partnering with Ted’s and Aardvark Straws to convince restaurants to switch from plastic to paper straws. Hannah is spending time this summer in London where she plans to visit Save the Rhino International and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Q: How did you become an environmentalist?

A: My mother always taught me to treat others how I would want to be treated. That includes other people, animals and our earth. Since an early age, I realized that our daily actions have an impact on the environment.

Q: How can people help the environment?

A: The easiest suggestion is reducing our plastic footprint. Using reusable instead of plastic bags will save about 500 plastic bags per person per year in the U.S. The waste from disposable plastic products ends up in our landfills or in our oceans. Over one million seabirds and 100,000 marine life die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic.

Q: How does that affect people?

A: Plastic pollution in our environment, especially in our oceans, affects everybody. If fish are eating plastic, and we eat fish, plastic is going to end up in our system. If our oceans die, that affects us.

Q: How do you curb your use of plastics?

A: I have a stainless steel water bottle I take everywhere I go. I have an eco-friendly lunchbox. I don't use straws but people can use paper, stainless steel or glass straws. The average plastic straw is used for about 20 minutes but it lasts forever in a landfill. And 50 percent of the 1 billion plastic straws used worldwide come from the U.S. alone. I hope some day, we will look back and say: "Can you believe we used to use plastic straws?"

Q: Is your family on board with your efforts?

A: 100 percent. We slip up on occasion but we are always trying to reduce our plastic footprint. My parents thank me because they now see the world through a child's eyes.

Q: How are you getting your message across?

A: I have made several educational videos posted on YouTube and my Facebook page, Hannah4Change. I present to groups across the state and in other states. I try to touch everyone I meet.

Q: Are you optimistic or discouraged?

A: Everywhere I turn, I see positive change. People tell me they have changed their daily habits because of knowledge I have given them. I see more and more people using reusable bags. I see more recycling. I am seeing restaurants reduce their use of plastic straws. Change is everywhere.

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