DC Metro Teen Drives Environmental Education and Action

BR Rogers

Another Earth Day is here and we celebrate this beautiful blue ball we all share while expressing our concern for the environment. While most activists fire our imaginations and inspire us to pursue volunteer work, when a teen does, we are reminded that youth is not a deterrent to creating a truly significant impact on the world's ecosystems. Mei Torrey is a powerful agent for change, yet she views her actions as just "a part of who I am." Mei is in high school, but her accomplishments and website read as if she's been an environmental educator and activist for decades.

Environmental educator and activist, Mei TorreyPhoto byMei Torrey

Mei described what she saw 4 years ago, in the background behind a friend. They were Facetiming after her friend had moved to Bali, Indonesia.

His tiny face barely breaks the murky water’s surface as his little limbs navigate through the cocktail of plastic bottles, styrofoam, and other debris. His head occasionally sinks underneath floating objects before coming up for air. The boy is only 10 or 11 years old, swimming in a river so polluted that the water has turned dark, green and gray. That night, I couldn’t sleep as I kept seeing the boy’s face over and over in my head, wondering how the river had become so polluted and if he would fall sick from immersing himself in it time and time again. I felt privileged and guilty as I wheeled my trash can, filled with packaging waste and water bottles, to the end of the driveway, contemplating whether I was contributing to the plastic crisis in Bali. I knew I had to do something.
Microplastics in the waterPhoto byDavid Nunuck

How that experience made her feel and what Mei took away from processing her thoughts and questions had set her on the path toward her calling. An environmental educator-activist was born.

Mei dug into the research, and after learning about microplastic's toxic impact on human health and how disproportionately it affects underprivileged populations, Mei researched further and found BASABali, a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. that promotes advocacy in Indonesia. Partnering with them, she founded Youth Leadership Council in her community. Its focus is on educating youth to take action toward reducing plastic pollution.

Mei was just getting started.

One World One Ecosystem

Chemicals in our environment have a domino effect on all of the earth's ecosystems as Mei learned during her research—it's all connected. It's easy to forget Mei is still in high school; she's already made huge inroads in promoting sustainability by creating diverse projects, training and organizing youth, driving education initiatives, publishing progressive research, volunteering with the Potomac Conservancy, authoring a children’s book, being a mentor . . . and we could go on. This is one young lady who knows how to celebrate Earth Day!

Mei Torrey volunteering with the Potomac ConservancyPhoto byMei Torrey

Earth Day Plans

This year for Earth Day, Mei plans to organize a school-wide clean-up at one of the local parks to help the community enjoy the beautiful weather. She's also planning to launch an event with US and Indonesian youth groups. Its purpose is to demonstrate how the power of local environmental efforts happening simultaneously at opposite ends of the earth can help our global ecosystem. We can hardly wait to see what she'll be doing when she's a high school senior on next year's Earth Day!

Environmental Superhero—Book Author and Educator

It’s not surprising that Mei inspires those even younger than herself to take action on behalf of the environment. Her educational children’s book about a superhero who uses her powers to fight for the environment was published in three languages. Once the book was published in partnership with BASABali, she partnered with inner-city public schools in Washington D.C. to share her book via call-to-action seminars. Conducting 12 meet-the-author sessions with more than 400 teachers and students, Mei's superhero helped inspire activism and learning. The sessions were attended by children from underprivileged socioeconomic groups who took home a book and an action strategy for teaching and sharing the importance of environmental health with family and friends.

Making a Difference

Mei is always looking for the next project that can make a difference for the earth's environment and the underprivileged, including publishing a 51-page academic paper last month. Her research was performed under the guidance of Dr. James Truncer, Harvard University Extension. The undergraduate-level paper examines single-use plastic waste accumulating in our water sources, and how it results in our ingestion of microplastics. This cycle disproportionately affects our most vulnerable communities—a population hardly positioned to withstand more stress.

Microplastic waste research dataPhoto byMDPI

Mei’s progressive research in microplastics was published in the March 2023 edition of Horizon Academic Research Journal, Vol 3, No. 2.

GreenActions for the Future

Competing recently in the international environmental competition GreenActions for the Future, the team Mei assembled and mentored throughout the high-profile competition took the 2nd place award. The contest was sponsored by Unilever Corporation and the Indonesian Embassy in Washington D.C. She and her mentees produced “bio-pores,” which made composting easier and more accessible to DC Metro neighborhoods while providing measurement statistics on the impact of the bio-pores on reducing food waste.

Mei and other advocates who’ve heard the call to educate and raise awareness represent the change agents we desperately need in these challenging times. Few individuals have the aptitude or passion for answering that call on the level Mei is doing—she’s an example of the best and most promising of our youth.

On Earth Day, we salute Mei Torrey and all those like her. Their dedication inspires us all to participate in more environmental education and increase activism on behalf of the Earth. We all share the wish to keep our planet healthy.

We’re fighting toward a greener earth for everyone!” – Mei Torrey

Mei plans to use her knowledge in multiple environmental disciplines to improve planetary ecosystems when she majors in environmental studies and sustainability at University.

If you'd like to read more about the environment and microplastics, you can check out Mei's blog articles. Happy Earth Day!

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