Sophia Skarparis is a 16 year old student with a passion for being involved in solutions to reduce and more importantly stop plastic pollution impacting on marine life for current and future generations.
At the age of 14, Sophia collected over12,000 hand written signatures to ban single use and heavy retail plastic bags in NSW. She presented the petition to the Premier and it was tabled in Parliament in October 2018. Whilst the motion to ban single use plastic bags was unsuccessful, Sophia’s campaign to reduce plastic waste in her own daily life, including school and sporting life continues, and in addition she has been instrumental in mobilising youth to act on climate change.
Her efforts to reduce plastic pollution saw her awarded with the title Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year in October 2018 with Sophia receiving her award from the Duchess of Sussex. All of her actions have had far reaching effects in spreading awareness about these important issues.
2 September: SodaStream Australia (through Fuel Communications Stephanie Banno) identified Sophia as the Generation Z youth participant on a panel to launch SodaStream’s Ocean of the Future campaign with the aim to bring awareness to the single-use plastics epidemic and drive a sense of urgency amongst Australians to act and change. The campaign included a world first Virtual Reality experience that highlighted the devastating effects of single-use plastic pollution in our oceans. The VR experience was set up at Sydney’s Circular Quay between 3rd and 7th September.
The other panellists included the CEO SodaStream Daniel Birnbaum, Chief Executive Clean Up Australia Terrie-Ann Johnson, Australian surfer Joel Parkinson and Elyse Knowles, an Australian model who won The Block (along with her boyfriend Josh Barker) in 2017. For the VR experience David Day from Lump Sculpture Studio (based in Mackay) built ‘Eddy’ the Turtle, a 242 kg large scale installation made from marine litter and debris.
The next morning Sophia and her school friends appeared on Channel 9 Today Show, live weather television crosses with Steve Jacobs interviewing Sophia.
School Strike for Climate
20 September: It was epic to see over 80,000 attend the Climate Strike rally in the Sydney Domain (and 300,000 participate across Australia).
High School Talk
25 September: Sophia was invited to speak at Queenwood Senior Campus @ Mosman to Years 10 & 11. The students embraced Sophia’s message of being plastic free and BYO. Queenwood helped Sophia in her quest to achieve over 10,000 handwritten signatures for her ‘Ban the Plastic Bag’ NSW Government petition with Dr Fiona Radford (History teacher) organising over 150 student signatures from the school.
Primary Schools Environmental Talk
Meeting with Federal Member, North Sydney Mr Trent Zimmerman
6 August (morning): Sophia was the keynote speaker at the Broken Bay Catholic Primary Environmental Leaders Think Tank held at the Sydney Taronga Zoo Institute of Science and Learning. 25 primary schools attended the event.
6 August (afternoon): Sophia and two community liaison officers from Northbridge Football Club (NFC) met with the Federal Member for North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman to update him on the Northbridge Football Club Environmental Charter (launched at the NFC Women in Football event in May 2019) and how the Club was already living out the Charter, having a ‘Recycle for Goodness’ weekend in June.
Note: The donated gear from this weekend, enough for three soccer teams, was sent to Gwydir Shire Council (sister council of Willoughby City Council), the region is 160km north of Tamworth and suffering from severe drought.
Meeting with the NSW Energy and Environmental Minister
Mr Matt Kean
26 August: Sophia was able to secure a meeting with the NSW Minister for Energy and Environment, Matthew Kean, who shared with her his three main goals:
Reduce greenhouse emissions
Increase the footprint of natural forests and
Develop a waste management policy (including plastics)
As discussed with Matt, Sophia is keen to be a member of the NSW Government committee (representing Gen Z) in developing a plastic policy for the State.
Preliminary HSC Technology Project
28 August: At Monte’s Design Exhibition, Sophia was able to display the light fitting that she designed made from discarded soy sauce plastic fish containers (sourced from clean ups and her community). It was an opportunity for Sophia to make a social statement about the single use of these containers and how they are then wasted to landfill.
PLASTIC FREE JULY
Met Claycups Founder Steve Dyer and friend Helen Barry where we shared conversation about our passion for ridding the world of plastic. Having a Claycup is a unique opportunity to be part of something bigger. They are plastic-free vessels (with silicon lids) that make for great conversation starters. They are made in Australia from clay with no plastics whatsoever. Barista-approved, dishwasher and microwave-safe. Order one now
On Thursday, 4 July Sophia paid it forward and spoke at her primary school, St Mary’s North Sydney. Sophia met up again with her 2014 Kindergarten buddies and current Year 6 Environmental leaders.
Primary School Talk
High School Talk
Sophia was invited to speak at the Loreto Normanhurst Green Team waste-free breakfast on Wednesday, 12 June. The breakfast was co-ordinated by Elizabeth Cranfield, Ecology Coordinator, Teacher of Science. The event was also attended by the Director of Mission, Mrs Libby Parker.
Youth at Taronga Zoo (YATZ)
How awesome! Sophia was welcomed into the Taronga family by being accepted into the Youth at Taronga Zoo (YATZ) program. She attended an induction session on 29 June at the recently opened Taronga Institute of Science and Learning.
Kerry Staker (YATZ Coordinator) led the induction session.
24 May, 2019 A magical evening, where the award winning director Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film) took us on a journey to explore what the future could be like by the year 2040 if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us to improve our planet and shifted them rapidly into mainstream. What an honour as Sophia was asked to be a guest Q&A panelist after the film screening of 2040 at Verona Cinema, Paddington. The other three panelists were:
Take 3 co-founder and CEO, Tim Silverwood,
Damon Gameau, writer, director and leading actor of 2040
Adriana Verges, UNSW Associate Professor, marine ecologist and seaweed expert
Sophia launched the Northbridge Football Club (NFC) Environmental Charter at a Female Football event organised by NFC club on 30 May, after her presentation on plastic pollution. The other three guest speakers were Grace McKeon: Exercise Physiologist, UNSW Medicine; Gabe Marzano: Former Sydney FC and Perth Glory W-League player and North Shore Mariners Womens NPL Club Captain and Linda Carroll: Former professional player in the Netherlands and current Northbridge FC Women’s All-Age player and mother of three.
On 6 April Sophia was invited back to the Northside Produce Market by Lisa MacDonald, the Northside Produce Market Coordinator. Theme for the day was - A Sustainable Future. Sophia was able to interact and support Better Business Partnership with their stall on the day. She was active in handing out reusable cloth bags to market attendees. The market is looking to be single use plastic free by 2020. A UTS university student joined Sophia on the day and interviewed, Lisa the Market Coordinator, Sophia and Sophia’s Mum. The student is studying journalism, chose Sophia as her topic and for her assignment, compiled a 4 minute video on her enviro quest.
Sophia was honoured to be invited to be a guest speaker at the Ocean Lovers Festival Talks at the Bondi Pavilion. She spoke passionately about how we need to BYO and reduce, refuse or recycle our waste. The event was hosted by AustralianEthical ae Investments and MC was Leah Willis, Head of Client Relationships ae.
Monday 15 April Sophia was live on television, Channel 7 Daily Edition. Producer of the show, Emily Costello invited her to be interviewed by the hosts, Sally Obermeder and Ryan Phelan on her enviro quest. Such a good interview promoting Sophia’s cause of living a plastic free lifestyle.
Tuesday 23 April Sophia visited Kelly’s Place Childrens Centre Crows Nest, a not-for-profit, community-based, long day care centre. She was able to share with the preschoolers her story and her passion to reduce and remove plastic pollution from everyday life. The Centre then shared with Sophia their quest to petition to put the Aboriginal flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Centre has also won a SPROuts award for their environmental efforts.
Front page Local Newspapers
Well Sophia made front page of North Shore Times and Mosman Daily, nicknamed Waste Warrior.
Inside the paper, the feature article (Thursday 28 February 2019 edition) emphasises Sophia’s efforts to educate the general public on the problems of plastic pollution and how she mobilised others to obtain hard copy signatures for a NSW Government petition to ban plastic bags in NSW (the only State in Australia that has not banned plastic bags). She has commenced speaking at different forums kickstarted by Australian Geographic award winners roadshow late February. In her talks she takes the opportunity to be able to advise audiences of the life cycle of a plastic bottle and how only 12% of the bottles are recycled, the rest end up in landfill and our oceans.
Clean Up Australia Day
3 March Clean Up Australia Day: Sophia joined in with the Surfrider Foundation ‘Paddle Out’ event commemorating 30 years since Ian Kiernan founded Clean Up Australia: 1989 -2019. Surfrider was able to film the ‘Paddle Out’ using a drone. The event was held at Sydney Harbour entering from Man of War jetty beside Sydney Opera House.
Climate Strike Rally
15 March: Students across Australia took part in a day of global action to protest inaction on climate change with more than 90 countries participating. Sophia was an enthusiastic supporter attending the Climate Strike rally at Sydney Town Hall with tens of thousands protesting.
Australian Geographic roadshow
20 February: Sophia was a speaker at the inaugural awardees Australian Geographic roadshow (hosted by AG Presents) - she was able to talk on her mission which is to make others aware of the impact of plastic pollution The event was held at NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre, Surry Hills with the theme of: Perspectives of Antartica.
At lunchtime she was a guest speaker at the inaugural 2019 Stead Memorial Environmental Lecture held at NSW Parliament House. She had the opportunity to co-speak with Bob Carr, the longest continuously serving Premier in NSW history (1995-2005). The theme for the event was ‘One person can make a difference’, in memory of David G. Stead.
21 February: Sophia was invited as a speaker to Just Around the Corner breakfast event held at Kernel Property, O’Connell Street, Sydney. One of the directors Steve Urwin heard Sophia speak at a mass at North Sydney and invited Sophia to speak. The other speaker at the breakfast was Dr Michael Seo, a member of CSIRO’s Graphene Membrane Group.
Bye-Bye Plastic Bag NSW Launch
Better Business Partnership have also released videos that they produced about Sophia’s quest to mobilise signatures for her petition to ban plastic bags in NSW. The videos have been shared with aligned NSW state politicians and social media.
Australia Day, Saturday January 26 was extra special as Sophia was awarded Young Citizen of the Year by both Willoughby City Council and North Sydney Councils. Both Councils recognised Sophia’s efforts to mobilise 12,000 plus handwritten signatures for a NSW Government petition for legislation to ban plastic bags in NSW.
She was able to celebrate with distinguished guests, family and friends at both events.
Friday 16 November
Sophia conducted a Waste Management Audit at her school, Monte Sant’ Angelo, North Sydney campus. She and her supporters weighed 59 of the 113 bags that were collected over two days from the site. Click here to find out how to conduct your own waste audit.
On Wednesday 21 November, Sophia attended an exclusive private screening of The Map to Paradise hosted with support from The Wilderness Society Sydney Committee of Management. The screening was at the Guthrie Theatre, University of Technology, Sydney. The film was an adventure-filled tale about the birth of the global movement to protect the sea.
Monday & Tuesday 26 & 27 November; Community Forum 3 December
Sophia attended a North Sydney Sustainability Youth Congress, cohosted by North Sydney Council and ozGREEN, held at the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability, Waverton. Thirty six high school students from 9 different high schools came together to develop a vision and most importantly to create practical action plans to make a difference.
NSW Day of Action partnering with Clean Up Australia
“Ban Plastic Bags” Petition Discussed in NSW Parliament
25 October, 2018
Clean Up Australia (CEO Terrie-Ann Johnson) and Sophia led an early morning community event at Bradfield Park, North Sydney where Terri-Ann acknowledged Ian Kiernan’s passing and legacy and handed over to Sophia, one of the leaders of the new generation taking responsibility and continuing his mission..
NSW Parliament discussed Sophia’s petition at 4.30pm. When the petition was discussed in the chamber, the NSW Government continued their stance of opposing a plastic bag ban.
Australian Geographic Awards
“Blue” Film Screening
North Sydney Young Person of the Year
Afloat magazine included Sophia’s Letter to the Editor in their September issue.
25 September - Sophia organised with the Wenona Environmental Group a screening of Blue at the Independent Cinema, North Sydney and invited Monte and Wenona school communities.
27 September - Sophia attended North Sydney Community Awards and was awarded 2018 North Sydney Young Person of the Year by Trent Zimmerman MP Federal Member for North Sydney for her unrelenting efforts in her work to raise environmental awareness throughout the North Sydney community, specifically in organising 12,000 handwritten signatures for a petition to ban the use of plastic bags in the State.
Meeting with Monte Principal
and NSW Premier
13 August - Sophia has sought a meeting with the principal of Monte to have the Monte canteen accredited through Surfrider Foundation Australia as being plastic free.
24 August - Sophia met with the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian and whilst the Premier still did not support a ban on single use plastic bags she commented that she would be doing the same thing that Sophia is doing ‘which is educating the public’. She advised that she will be tabling the petitions in NSW Parliament for a debate as Sophia has obtained more than 10,000 signatures.
29 August - BBP (Better Business Partnership) have requested to undertake video footage of Sophia and her petition journey
Good for the Hood
YMCA NSW Youth Parliamentarians
PLASTIC FREE JULY
Sophia attended Plastic Free July Party on 7 July, at Tonic Lane Cafe, Neutral Bay.
Met Jo Taranto, Director Social Enterprise, Good for the Hood who appeared on Q & A on Monday 23 July. Jo interviewed Sophia and advised Sophia about ABC Open. A contribution named Waste Warrior: Sophia was received by ABC Open.
12 July - Attended Living Plastic Free Information Stall at Chatswood Mall. Met Hannah Pickering from The Trolley Bag Project – she runs workshops on how to make beeswax wraps.
16 July - Attended YMCA NSW Youth Parliament held at Macquarie Street, Sydney. At lunch, Sophia addressed a youth parliamentarian crowd of over a 100 about her petition to ban the plastic bag in NSW. She also attended the debating session on the Environment and Climate Change after lunch. She obtained more than 30 signatures as well as a contact for the NSW Youth Parliamentarians Environment Group, Sam Harris.
21 July, 2018 - Attended Northside Produce Markets Saturday morning. Advised about a magazine called Afloat which has a readership of over 30,000 (Australia wide).
28 July - Attended a Plastic Free Community event held at Barrenjoey High School, Avalon. The theme was A Living Ocean for Future Generations. There were stalls and workshops from ocean care groups.
22 July - Attended Sustainability at Stucco in Newtown – Student Climate Action Network.
In early June, Sophia sent out an update to the majority of her supporters advising them that she had just over 8,000 signatures. She still needed a couple of thousand more signatures and she would then meet with the Premier again when she obtained the 10,000 signatures.
With the knowledge that Northside Produce Markets were so successful Sophia booked a space at Mosman Market for 2 June, 2018. Unfortunately due to high winds/bad weather the Market was closed. Sophia was to share a table with Boomerang Alliance.
Sophia was able to solicit signatures from attendees at a Willoughby Council sponsored event called TECHSHIFT on the 15 June. The theme was around resource recovery and turning waste into resource. A soft launch of Bye Bye Plastic campaign also occurred. Sophia met Tim Silverwood Co Founder & CEO Take 3 and Katrina Kimmorley, Co Founder Pollinate Energy.
Sophia was accepted as a nomination for Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year with application lodged on 27 June. Referee testimonial was from Surfrider Foundation Australia.
At the Laudato Si 6pm youth mass held at St Mary’s North Sydney on 17 June, Sophia spoke to the congregation about how Laudato Si inspired her to organise a petition to Ban the Plastic Bag in NSW. The celebrant, Fr Daven Day SJ endorsed her petition and mass goers had an opportunity to sign after mass.
North Sydney Council are producing an online July newsletter which is to have an article about Sophia and her campaign to Ban the Plastic Bag including her petition.
Through a Surfrider contact, Australian Geographic (AG) interviewed Sophia for an online article published 22 June, 2018.
Meeting with NSW Premier
Sophia met the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian on Friday 4 May at her local office in Naremburn. Gladys is Sophia’s local member. Whilst the Premier was cordial and friendly she was only going to acknowledge the signatures by a letter. Sophia had only obtained 7,040 signatures at this stage.
Sophia also offered to meet the Premier on a regular basis to be a youth advocate for Environmental issues especially regarding plastic. The Premier advised that she was time poor and that a quarterly meeting with her was feasible. The Premier also said that if Sophia undertook these initiatives in her electorate that she would include Sophia in her media profile.
As soon as Sophia left the Premier’s office she decided that she would get the additional signatures and meet back with the Premier when she did. Sophia emailed the Premier’s office on Monday and updated her on that basis.
Sophia lodged an application for UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador, however it was unsuccessful.
Late May Sophia was allowed to circulate her petition at House Plays, a major event at Monte which includes all school years. She obtained about 500 signatures. In the morning she attended Muffins with Francis at Mary MacKillop Place as they were discussing Laudato Si’. She was asked to speak at the session about her petition and her experience.
Luke Foley, former Leader of the NSW Opposition mailed a letter supporting the petition and he advised that regardless of the number of signatures that he would be pleased to formally table the petition. Sophia emailed back advising that she was meeting the Premier in early May and would update him after the meeting with the Premier.
During April an organisation called Compost-A-Pak was contacted. Compost-A-Pak are a Newcastle based family business (for more than 10 years) providing online compostable bags and liners including dog waste solutions. All their products are made from a natural starch-based polymer derived from corn. It is third grade corn so the corn is not suitable for human or animal consumption. Compost-A-Pak mailed some free samples of their products to give/show the NSW Premier when Sophia had her meeting with her.
Newspaper Catholic Weekly
Collecting Signatures for Petition
Film Screening “Plastic Ocean”
In March 2018 Catholic Weekly contacted Sophia and asked if they could do an article. She agreed and a positive article was included in the Weekly on the 18 March, 2018. The article advised that she had gathered over 1,000 signatures.
At this stage she also established an email address for her cause so she could be contacted directly.
She was at the Earth Hour Breakfast at Riverview and identified other high schools who would be interested in circulating the petition (so forwarded the petition after the breakfast to these schools).
Through a contact from the OLOW Environment group she was allowed to be at the opening of the Coal Loader , Picnic on Platform, Waverton and obtained more than 600 signatures from this event.
Northside Produce Markets agreed to have her petition there and Sophia canvassed visitors during March and April. This proved very successful with over 1,000 signatures obtained from the Markets.
Sophia identified that there were also free screenings of The Plastic Ocean which the event organisers also allowed her to have her petition. The movie is an expose on the impact of plastic on the marine environment. From these screenings Sophia obtained about 400 signatures.
With Sophia’s contacts through Jesuit Communications she extended her reach of Catholic schools across the NSW state including Wollongong and Newcastle. The Office of Bishop Umbers saw the article in the Catholic Weekly and Bishop Umbers signed the petition and circulated amongst his colleagues.
Collecting Signatures for Petition
From her experience with the Climate Change petition, Sophia recognised huge support from her generation, Generation Z. So she reached out to environmental leaders at local high schools in the lower North Shore with the petition, in the main they were Catholic schools. Her own school, Monte have been very supportive with over 1,500 signatures obtained from the school.
Sophia devised a standard email which went out to the schools, including the petition and a two minute movie which explained the background behind the petition. These schools greatly supported the petition. Sophia also approached Northside Produce Markets, North Sydney and asked if she could have her petition at the Markets.
In contacting Boomerang Alliance they provided Sophia free of charge Plastic Pollution Graphics and props which she has used to increase her visibility wherever she had a presence for her petition.
After consulting with Caritas Australia (Catholic Agency for International Aid & Development), Sophia found out that NSW was the only state that had not banned or would be banning single use plastic bags. With her recent experience with a Climate Change petition through Our Lady of the Way (OLOW) parish Environment group she decided to take on the challenge of obtaining 10,000 signatures through a petition to ban both single use and heavy retail plastic bags in NSW.
The petition made reference to banning heavy retail plastic bags which does go beyond what other states have done.
In obtaining 10,000 signatures she was guaranteed a debate about her petition in NSW Parliament. The signatures were required to be hard copy (NSW Government Petitions Committee do not allow online signatures).