We are going to Malaysia in the footsteps of young people from all over the world who overcome obstacles and create change. We are with Sydney Steenland, who has made environmental change with an inspiring and surprising story.
The 16-year-old girl has been living on a sailboat with her family since childhood. The story of moving to the boat was at first due to his family’s financial difficulties. But later she turned into a way of life. And thanks to this unique lifestyle, Sydney has had the opportunity to see places in the world that most children can only dream of.
“While we were traveling, we encountered terrible things like plastic, as well as wonderful places and a beautiful nature,” says the young girl.
14 million tons of plastic waste per year
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 14 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans each year. Plastic waste accounts for 80 percent of all litter in the seas.
Having witnessed the huge scale of plastic pollution in the oceans, Sydney and her family started a social enterprise project. The Sea Monkey Project, named after its sailors, thus said ‘hello’ to life. In this context, they produce souvenirs by recycling the plastic waste they collect.
“You have to start doing something”
Thanks to the project, which was implemented when Sydney was only 11 years old, more than 22,500 plastics have been recycled so far.
Saying that they have organized nearly 10 thousand training workshops, the young environmentalist thinks that a small step should be taken in any field and adds:
“You may care about different things in the world like poverty, hunger, climate change, plastic pollution, etc. But when you want to start doing something, you have to start doing it physically. It can be anything, no matter how small it is.”
How is recycling done?
The plastics recycling project works as a result of the distribution of the machines produced by the family throughout Malaysia, thanks to the plans that industrial engineer Dave Hakkens shared as open source on the internet.
“We took his (Hakkens) bright idea and built our own machines after a lot of trial and error,” explains Sydney process.
The conversion machine has three separate parts. The shredder makes large plastic pieces smaller. The second piece is for melting plastics.
The third part acts as an injector and fills the molten plastic into empty molds. Saying that she is very happy with the result, Sydney says, “We can take this plastic material that no one values and turn it into items that people can use in their daily lives, at school or in the kitchen.”
Sydney’s family lives in Malaysia and they have 26 machines scattered all over the country. In addition, thanks to the project, 57 recycling machines have been placed in 15 more countries since 2018.
“We provide jobs to communities around the world,” says Sydney’s father, Carlos Steenland.
“I teach in workshops”
Education is at the heart of the Sea Monkey Project, and Sydney itself organizes most of the workshops. “I provide trainings, explain the recycling process, and encourage people to make their own recycled products using our machines,” he says. “I also give talks on the problem of plastic pollution in different countries and I hope to inspire people to make a difference in their own communities,” Sydney adds.
Expressing that the world is in a very bad situation in every way right now, the young girl wants to save the ocean, which she and her family call “home”.
“Things don’t seem to be getting better, but if you look closely you can see small changes have been made, and if we can all slow down the destruction of the soil beneath our feet, then eventually we will find a solution,” he says.