This is a transcript of YACVic’s podcast, ‘Locked Down, Speaking Up!’, part of the ‘Learning from COVID-19’ series. Listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.
This episode of ‘Locked Down, Speaking Up!’ was recorded on the Lands of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people of the Kulin Nation. Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) pays our respects to Elders past and present.
♫ Upbeat intro track plays – ‘Far Away’ by MK2 ♫
Environmental damage and climate change are among the most urgent issues for young people. But for a lot of us, it can feel like the global pandemic has eclipsed environmental causes. It’s easy to feel like it’s all too much or all too hard, but the phrase ‘think global, act local’ has never been more true.
The pandemic has been disheartening and stressful, but it’s also transformed what we now think of as ‘real’ or ‘valid’ action. So many of us young people are getting creative about what activism can mean for our needs and our communities, and being more inclusive about it too.
You’re listening to YACVic’s podcast, Locked Down, Speaking Up. I’m Katia, I use she/her pronouns, and together we get to meet different young people in Victoria talking about their experiences of advocacy, activism and making change during the pandemic. You’ll learn how young people are making a difference, and how you can do it too!
Today we’re hearing from Candace, who uses she/her pronouns. She’s a young person in Brimbank. She’s also the founder of the Little Litter Project, a local clean-up initiative. Candace is telling us about how the pandemic changed environmental action for her community, and how she adapted to keep people onboard.
I’m Candace Colaco, the founder of Little Litter Project. I use she/her pronouns, and work and live on Wurundjeri Country.
The Little Litter Project was started in 2019. And basically, is a platform that I use to raise awareness about plastic pollution, waste management. This is mainly done through social media, so posts, content, and also done through events such as clean-ups – community clean-ups – which gets the community involved and actually shows people these issues that we're facing when it comes to plastic pollution in real life.
And yeah, I basically started it up because I was driving back every day from uni on the freeway. I would notice that there’d be a lot of rubbish on the side of the freeway, and kept wondering if anything would be done about it, and nothing was being done about it. And then I called my local council, as well as called VicRoads and asked them if someone could come down and clean up all this rubbish on the side of the road.
They were like, yep, we'll send out a team. And it’d been a couple of months, about six to eight months, and nothing was being done. So I called again, and was like, hey, just wondering if someone could come down and clean this, I've noticed that it's been here for a while. And nothing was getting done as well. So I noticed that I was just getting hand balled back and forth between VicRoads and my local council. So I basically started up this project just to raise awareness.
I would hear on the news, or you’d see in the media about something to do specifically with climate change. Or in other countries that are facing climate change. Or protest, when we had all the schools protesting for climate change, you’d see that all over the media. But I wasn’t seeing anything about small community things, or like day-to-day things that we go through, like plastic pollution.
And I felt like there was nothing on social media about like reducing our waste or being more conscious when it comes to shopping or grocery shopping. So yeah, I was just like, these are small things that we can change day-to-day. And it’s better to start off on a smaller scale, and it makes a bigger effect. So I was like, it’s time to kind of just like, bring that awareness and get my friends involved and get the community involved.
Before the pandemic, I feel like we were becoming really good when it came to reducing our waste. Like Coles and Woolies had introduced they were getting rid of plastic bags, and like all these small things were happening.
And then we were hit with this massive plastic wave with everything being single-use. Like a mask being single-use, our gloves being single use. We converted to everyone eating takeaway food, because they weren’t allowed to go in and dine in.
We noticed there was definitely a change when it came to like, even like the rubbish and stuff we were picking up. As well as that, like, we couldn’t get the numbers that we were getting beforehand at clean-ups because people were number one too scared to come out in group environments. But also, we had these restrictions and stuff like that.
So it’s been tough over COVID obviously, we weren’t able to do any big group clean-ups during COVID. But once Melbourne started to ease a couple of restrictions, slowly starting to gain momentum again and get people involved. And I feel like people once they’re out and about and they’re actually doing the clean-up, they enjoy it.
Especially with the youth that attend the clean-up, it’s definitely had a very positive impact on them. A lot of them, I’m not gonna lie, when you think of a clean-up, you just think of like rubbish. you think of waste and like it’s dirty and stuff like that.
But once you’re out there with a group of people, it’s like a social event as well. You come all together, you're doing your part. You’re actually there. It’s so satisfying cleaning up and getting bags and bags and bags. I feel like people actually leave there at the end of the day like, oh my goodness, I've actually done something like this! Or, I can’t believe how many bags we collected. Or, if we didn’t do this today then there would have been seven bags of rubbish that still were lying out there in that park. It's a feel-good moment for a lot of people. And it's a wakeup call that this is a real issue, and people that attended my clean-ups, they keep coming back every single time because they enjoy it. And at the end of the day, yeah, like, they want to tell friends about it and family about it.
It's easy to get demoralised, because you do see a lot of rubbish. And it's a lot to take in. But at the same time, I think the environment you're in and the people you meet – and it's like, as I said, like a social event as well – you kind of leave there and it’s like a positive.
I’m sure a lot of us can relate to that feeling Candace described of seeing big things on the news you want to see change, but not knowing how. But as Candace said, local action has a greater impact on people than you think, mentally and socially. And although clean-up events weren’t possible in lockdowns, Candace has taken advantage of social media as a place to continue that positive social impact.
I was actually lucky, a lot of people stayed engaged. And I was lucky even like last year, I had a couple of opportunities that came up. I spoke as a panellist for two events. I was still like, staying active. So I didn't just like put Little Litter Project on hold or stop it because of COVID. I just found other ways to get the message out there or educate people where possible.
It was hard to kind of adapt during COVID but at the same time, I just kept consistent when it came to posts and reels and content. So kind of just like educating people on make small changes at home whether it be like their pantry, or buying from bulk food stores, what items to recycle and tips on recycling, so not reduce not recycling contaminated items and taking your soft plastics to Woolies and recycling them. Small tips and tricks just to pretty much educate people on these things because I feel like a lot of people, they know the basics of recycling, but with every council it differs. It’s actually so much to it and people actually don't realise.
I did like a little challenge on Little Litter Project about like, swapping for alternatives, or alternatives for single use plastic. Heaps people got involved in that. And they would like post photos and tag Little Litter Project. So yeah, it was just educating people through that.
I'd love to get more into like education. So involved in schools. I've already spoken at two schools before when it came to like recycling, but I'd love to touch on other topics such as like, climate, waste, plastic pollution, all of that. Continuing with clean-ups, educating people on this, and where possible, just say yes to everything. I feel like there's so many opportunities and so many doors to open.
I really like that Candace focused on day-to-day, accessible tips. During lockdown, so few things felt like they were in our control, and we should acknowledge that it’s not like that feeling has completely gone away either. But focusing on what you can do is really empowering. I know personally that sometimes when I’ve sacrificed convenience to use an eco-friendly alternative, you do wonder how ‘worth it’ it is. But as Candace describes, doing community clean-ups and actually seeing that impact makes you realise that small actions really do have a big impact! If all this has you interested in organising a similar initiative in your area, Candace has some advice.
My advice for young people would definitely be like, we have so many ways to kind of reach out to other people and get involved. If you have an idea - like even the smallest idea - like my idea at the time just seem so stupid. I'm like, as if people my age are going to want to be following a page about waste and recycling! You don't actually know until you put yourself out there and you get something going. And you'd be surprised at the amount of support that you get from the most random people.
I feel like my advice would be just to do it. There's so many things that could hold you back, at the same at the same time there's so many things that can push you forward. And like the people you will meet, you just never know where it might take you, the jobs it might land you, and like the opportunities and the doors it might open.
For me, I literally went and made my own logo on like PowerPoint. And then I went and got that printed onto like, a high vis vest. For me, that was like what I needed to just get out there for people to see my logo and to be like, okay, this is like not the council. This is someone's organisation, her own organisation. So you need to be creative as well; use the resources around you.
I literally just grabbed some gloves one day, I grabbed literally a plastic bag, and I walked past my reserve. And every weekend pretty much at my reserve there’s a bunch of KFC and McDonald’s that just gets dumped on the floor. And I'm like, alright, I'm just gonna go pick it up one day. And it was so satisfying once I picked it up. And I was like, oh, that's so good! And now every time I drove past, it was clean! It would have got blown away, or I it would have got washed down the waterways or something like that. It’s so easy to take action. And yeah, I was like, conscious of people driving past and looking at me, but at the same time, I'm like, I'm doing a lot more than I was doing yesterday.
There's a lot of people talking about it, but there's no one really doing anything about it. So like there's always people on social media talking about it. So I feel like if you're really putting yourself out there, people see that you're actually doing something and you're a bit more hands on about it. And they want to help and they want to get involved.
Doing a clean-up, you see all this rubbish, and you think about how many times that you’ve used a plastic straw, you think how many times that you've just teared off your sugar packet or whatever, and just thrown it somewhere. But you're like, holy crap, I can make that change. Or I can shift my lifestyle just by making these small changes day to day.
I love that point that there’s so many things that could hold you back, but there are also so many things that can push you forward – it’s definitely been hard to remember at times in the pandemic! And Candace’s story is a great example of how there could be so many young people in your local area to collaborate with, who care about the same issue as you – whether that’s environmental action or something else.
If Candace’s story has you motivated and energised to take action on something important to you, there are plenty of ways YACVic can support you! This podcast is part of the ‘Learning from COVID-19’ series, our resource full of materials to help you learn from the most clever COVID adaptions for young people. You can check out the activism category for plenty of helpful info, from a social justice glossary to guides for meeting with your MP, and much more! Head to YACVic.org.au/COVID-youth-work to find it all.
You can also become a YACVic member – which is free for young people! – for exclusive opportunities, supports and resources.
All of these links are also in this episode’s transcript and show notes.
♫ Upbeat outro track plays – ‘Far Away’ by MK2 ♫
In the next episode, we’ll meet Louis, a teenager who created a youth committee for their sports club when they realised young athletes had no ways to express their opinions or have a say on club decisions. If you’re a young athlete and this sounds familiar, or maybe you just want to learn more about how to speak up for yourself, this one’s for you. Until then, thanks for listening!