Anyone can be an environmental superhero.
Miranda Legg has always known the recycling basics, but she didn't realize just how harmful plastic can be if not recycled properly until she visited a sea turtle hospital in Florida.
At the time, she was a sophomore in high school, and she recalls seeing helpless sea creatures living with injuries, sometimes permanent ones, that were the result of plastic garbage in the ocean. Miranda has carried the experience with her ever since.
A turtle stuck in the plastic rings that hold soda cans. Photo by Stefan Leijon/Flickr.
It was a closeup view of a worldwide epidemic. According to a study published in Science Magazine, more than 8 trillion tons of garbage makes it into the ocean every year. And, if things don't change soon, that number could increase 10 times over in the next decade.
The harrowing statistics hit Miranda hard. She was determined to do something to try and counteract them.
Thankfully, she was already in touch with DoSomething.org, a nonprofit that helps people, especially younger generations, make a positive impact on the world. The organization is essentially an online tool that connects people with social good campaigns that speak to them, making it easier than ever to get up and help.
Miranda had already participated in a few of DoSomething's campaigns in the past, so when she received an email from them alerting her to Garnier and TerraCycle's Rinse, Recycle, Repeat College Competition, she immediately applied to take part.
DoSomething is currently partnered with Garnier's Rinse Recycle Repeat campaign, which is educating the younger generations about how to recycle their beauty products the right way. Half of Americans don't recycle them at all which is part of why beauty and personal care products make up approximately one-third of the trash in landfills. This campaign is working to shrink those statistics.
"I really wanted to participate because, one: I love a good competition, and two: I loved the cause," writes Miranda in an email.
Photo by Miranda Legg.
The rules were simple — starting April 1, 2018, the 50 national colleges that had made it into the competition would compete to collect as many empty beauty and personal care plastic containers as they could. Whichever college team had collected the most empties by the end of April would be named the winner, and rewarded with a green garden for their community. The team leader would also receive a $2,000 scholarship.
Motivated by competition and the desire to inspire positive change, Miranda put out rallying cries on social media for friends, students and teachers to bring her their bathroom bottles.
She sent emails around to everyone she knew who either went to Winston Salem State University or lived close to her home. She set up recycling boxes all over campus and at both her parents' places of business. She also encourages people to get rid of old products that were just taking up space.
"One thing that really helped was I asked everyone to go through their space under the bathroom sink and see what is expired," explains Miranda. "For example under my sink I found a sunscreen that had expired in 2007."
We're all guilty of holding onto products for months or even years after their expiration date. So not only was Miranda helping the environment, she was giving tons of people the perfect opportunity to de-clutter.
Thanks to an incredibly supportive network of family, friends, teachers, and classmates, by the end of the competition, Miranda had collected over 5,000 empties.
But was that enough to win her the title of #1 college empties recycler?
DoSomething had a leaderboard going throughout April on their website so people could see how the college teams were doing. While Miranda was often in the lead, there was a point towards the end where she sat firmly in second place. Scared she wasn't going to pull out ahead, she once again implored her recycling troops to bring her anything and everything they had left.
That final motivating push turned out to be more than enough — by the last week in April, Miranda's final empties count was almost double that of the team in second place.
Now that Miranda's won the competition, she can't wait to help turn empties into a green garden for her school. If all goes according to plan, the garden should open in either September or October with a commemorative ribbon cutting ceremony and volunteer day.
"I am so excited to see how it is going to turn out, but it really wouldn’t be possible without Garnier and Terracycle," writes Miranda. "I’ve seen some of the gardens they have made before and they are amazing."
But don't think for a second that just because the competition's over, Miranda's going to stop working for a cleaner planet. She's got bigger plans.
She's doing a Plastic Free July, which is simply refusing single-use plastic like bags at convenience stores or plastic straws at coffee shops. While these may sound like little, inconsequential things, Miranda knows more than most just how much of an impact these adjustments make on the environment.
Armed with knowledge like this, Miranda's now that person who always takes plastic bottles out of the trash and recycles them. She also advocates for reusing and proper recycling whenever she can.
But most importantly, Miranda wants people to know that large-scale change can and does start with one person. It's just about making small adjustments and incorporating them into your day to day life. If you can do that, you're helping all of us get closer to a cleaner planet.
If you want to join Miranda in being a better recycler, start collecting empty beauty containers. Once you've accumulated 10 pounds, mail them to TerraCycle. So far, Garnier's Rinse Recycle Repeat campaign has kept over 10 million empties out of landfills.