Meet the nine-year-old girl who wants countries to adopt a plastics treaty

(Credit: Unsplash/Naja Bertolt Jensen)

At nine-years-old, Layale is already worried about worldly problems. She’s an ecoguide at her school La Découverte in Geneva – a programme that looks for ways to make it more environment-friendly. Purple scarf wrapped around her neck, comfortable crocs on and a warm smile, she sits across from me at a child-size school table next to her father. A few weeks back, Layale came across an article I wrote about plastic pollution and what companies are doing to curb their plastic footprint.

“Since I was little I have been very sad about turtles who die because of eating plastic,” she tells me. Reading back, the article paints a bleak picture, with companies producing tons of plastic packaging every year and just a tiny fraction coming from recycled material despite commitments to do better. Through further research, Layae discovered the staggering figure of one million plastic bottles being sold every minute.

But the magnitude of the issue did nothing other than encourage her to act. “When I read your article, I thought I could write a letter to the governments and then also launch a petition so that they start negotiating a treaty on plastics,” she says.

The initiative called on countries, which gathered in Nairobi this week for the UN Environment Assembly, to not let themselves be influenced by “the people who don’t want the treaty to happen” and agree on a treaty to “reduce, recycle and and use compostable plastics”.

So far, Layale has gathered over 300 signatures through her school and her online petition. She also made sure that her letter reached some political leaders.

“I sent it to Boris Johnson because my mum is British, to Emmanuel Macron because my dad is French and to Ignazio Cassis because I live in Switzerland,” she says.

While the heads of state have yet to reply to her letter directly and it is difficult to say if any actually saw it, much to her relief, the countries took a historic step and agreed on Wednesday to go ahead with formal talks for a legally binding treaty. The agreement will encompass the whole lifecycle of plastics, meaning that it could push for measures to reduce plastic production, as she mentions in her petition.

Asked what she would recommend to other kids her age that were worried about their planet, she says: “I would tell them to defend their planet and get the voices of young people heard”.