Hodaka Yara is an environmental activist in a student organisation called Bye Bye Plastic Bags Tokyo. It is the Tokyo branch of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an international NGO founded by sisters Isabel and Melati in Bali, Indonesia, who wanted to protect the island from plastic pollution. The girls were only 10 and 12 years old respectively, but the youth organisation has since expanded into a global initiative spanning across 50 countries.
What is environmental activism, and what can we do as students? Read the full interview to find out!
Q1. Please tell us about your activities.
I carry out environmental education in my organisation Bye Bye Plastic Bags Tokyo. It was founded in Bali, and I work for the Tokyo branch.
Q2. What exactly is environmental education?
Once a month we hold a workshop to talk to students about plastic pollution and how they, as students, can do environmental activism. We just started in January, and because of the coronavirus, we’ve only held one workshop, but we announce it on social media when we hold one. We also speak at events held by other environmental groups.
Q3. When did you start doing activism?
The Tokyo branch was established in Autumn of 2018. The branch leader had met the founders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Bali and was inspired by them. Since he and I were friends from the same high school, he invited me to start the organisation with him, and that’s how it started.
Q4. I’m sure some ICU students are interested in effecting social change but don’t have the courage to take that first step. What motivated you? How did you feel at the beginning?
I felt at the beginning that activism would really help me grow. Not only would I know much more about the environment, but I would also acquire the skills to build connections with people and experience creating an organisation from scratch. It was an intriguing concept. We had no support and no guidance, but it meant we could do it however we wanted to without any pressure. It was one hundred percent voluntary, and very exciting.
I was initially juggling school work and club activity with running the organisation, so I wasn’t putting in tons of effort. But last summer I decided to take a break from club activities, so I was able to really focus on activism and school work. From there I started contacting many schools and other organisations to build connections.
Q5. When do you feel that your efforts have been worthwhile?
The most rewarding moments are when a lot of people turn up at our events, or when we are invited as guest speakers to other events. It’s my goal for BBPB Tokyo to become more widely known and build up our reputation, so those moments are really satisfying.
Q6. What have you come to notice through working as an activist?
Environmental issues are both intriguing and difficult. As an educator, I feel that it’s not simply about deciding not to use or do something. For example, the decision to stop using plastic requires consideration about so many different factors, like what to use instead of plastic, is there an environmentally friendly alternative, and whether it’s better to recycle. You have to research and think it through. It’s a complicated matter.
But I do think activism enriches my life. Anything you put effort into does, whether its activism or club activities. To take pride in doing something unique really gives you confidence, so you might as well try it.
Q7. What is one thing you want more ICU students to know?
It’s far more important to reduce consumption than plastic. Plastic is so widely used, and it’s too difficult trying to avoid everything that’s bad for the environment. People who aren’t concerned about that won’t bother, so it’s best to just reduce consumption.
Q8. What does society need to know about protecting the environment?
Environmental issues are complex, and it’s important to talk about them to understand the problem. More discourse means increased awareness.
Q9. What do you find enjoyable about environmental activism?
One thing a lot of advocates say is that activism connects people. Getting to know other students with similar mindsets and talking with them at events really builds a nice community. It’s an inviting concept: helping the environment while making friends.
Q10. Finally, what are your goals for the future? What do you want to challenge yourself to do?
I want our organisation to be able to talk to more students and offer useful information. We want our target audience to be young people who are interested in activism but are not sure where to start, and school is the best place to reach out to them. I hope our organisation continues to expand and offer young people the incentive to act, through workshops and lectures.