From Zero Waste to Maximum Impact

By Zaria Romero
October 25, 2021

Zaria Romero is representing the Outrider Foundation at the 16th International Climate Conference of Youth in Glasgow, Scotland. How did her climate advocacy start and what does she hope to learn in Scotland?

My name is Zaria Romero and I am a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying psychology and conservation biology. I am excited to attend the 16th Conference of Youth (COY16) in Glasgow Scotland because I care deeply about the environment. My happy place has always been being outside: hiking, camping or simply enjoying nature. Growing up surrounded by nature at my family’s land meant that I could fish in the pond, pick blackberries or build forts in the forest and ride horses in the fields. These amazing experiences foster my deep connection to our environment and fuel my passion for climate advocacy specifically through the focus of leaving a place better than you found it.

During my junior year of high school, I learned about the zero-waste movement and thought it was the perfect way to respect the camper’s adage “leave no trace.” I consumed all the information on this movement I could find including spending days watching YouTube videos of other’s ideas and practices to determine how to reduce the amount my family wastes. I even did DIY projects that experimented with how to make my own toothpaste and deodorant to reduce packaging waste and “walk the talk” of the zero-waste movement. My climate activism journey to showcase the unsustainable ways we live has taken me from DIY projects in Minnesota to an international climate conference in Scotland. I could not be more excited.

But, merely living the zero-waste lifestyle for myself, was not enough, so to help others find their passion for climate change I began to work with Climate Generation. With them and other youth, I helped plan a climate convening in my community of Rochester, Minnesota to talk about the climate emergency. I have also spoken about my zero-waste journey at the University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Conference, spoke at the Lake Superior Youth Conference, and was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio News. Now that I am in college, I am part of the student group, Enactus, and am the co-project manager for the Sustainable Move-Out Initiative which I established last year. As you can see, I am highly motivated to educate others about the climate emergency we are facing and steps we can take to reverse it.

My personal history will guide my COY16 goal of adding to the strong call that youth climate leaders will voice when crafting future policies to overcome the climate crisis. It is obvious that my generation will inherit the devastating consequences of our changing climate due to human activity even though we have not been on this planet long enough to create (or not create) the policies that have put humanity in this dire situation. Knowing that I will personally be able to participate in the policy document that will be presented to the delegates of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) means that my voice and the voice of my peers will be heard by the international climate community. That is pretty inspiring!

Additionally, I am attending COY16 because I am fearful of what the future will hold for Earth’s future generations. Specifically, some of my friends have told me that they may not have children because they do not want to bring a child into a world that is defined by the scary effects of the climate crisis. Another friend told me she was a camp counselor and noticed how one of her camper’s asthma worsened due to the wildfires in California. This touched me because I was a camp counselor this past summer as well and I grew close to my young campers. It feels good to know that I will bring their voices to the table at COY16 to make policies that help children breath clean air free from pollution due to wildfires driven by climate change.

Not only will I represent the voices of our youngest generations, but I will also advocate for a zero-waste future by finding ways at the conference to hold businesses accountable for their waste and emissions. One thing I have learned from my zero-waste journey is that it is important for consumers to be conscious about what they are buying, but at the end of the day, the most positive change will come from businesses utilizing sustainable practices and selling sustainable goods. The customer should not have guess which product is the most sustainable, but rather we should place responsibilities on businesses to sell products that are environmentally friendly and ethical. This is only fair, so connecting with fellow future climate leaders that feel the same way about a sustainable future is an exciting goal of my trip to Glasgow.

Together with my colleagues at COY16, I will work to improve climate policies which establish that a zero-waste future is both just and beneficial to everyone. This is what I am the most excited about, the idea that I will work together with other young advocates to create change that reflects every country’s unique needs to overcome the climate crisis. Everyone will bring a different story of how the changing climate is affecting them so listening, learning and connecting with other young leaders of the climate change movement will inspire me to return home and continue to have the maximum impact I can in order to leave the earth better than I found it.

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