Raeed Roshan Ali: Inspiring Youth to Tackle the Plastic Waste Problem
Hello! My name is Spiffy, I’m an Interplanetary Journalist. I’ve been speaking with innovators from around the world who are working to improve our environment. Raeed Roshan Ali is the National Coordinator of Precious Plastic Fiji, and working to make an impact on UN SDG 12: Responsible Consumption & Production. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome Raeed, what a pleasure to meet you! Can you start off by telling me what challenge you are addressing?
Raeed: Thanks so much for this opportunity, Spiffy! Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated so rapidly that it has created 8.3 billion metric tons of waste, out of which only 9% has ever been recycled. It’s estimated that Fiji, a small Pacific Island country with a population of fewer than one million people, produces 168.4 tonnes of plastic waste each day! 136 tonnes of this plastic waste is mismanaged. So in 2019, my friends and I formed Precious Plastic Fiji, a youth-led social enterprise that adopted the principles of a global movement to provide a solution to solve the plastic pollution problem. We apply commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social, and environmental well-being, by turning plastic waste into commercially viable products.
Spiffy: Wow, Raeed, this sounds pretty comprehensive! Why were you motivated to try to tackle plastic pollution? It seems so daunting!
Raeed: Well, Spiffy, I remember when I was 10 years old. My family and I were on our way back to Nadi from Suva. We bought KFC takeaway lunch to eat by the beach, along the Coral Coast. After lunch, we got back in the car on our drive home, when I thoughtlessly threw my plastic drinking cup out the window. My mum noticed what I had done, stopped the car, reversed the car, and told me to get out and get my trash. Frustrated, I obliged and banged the door when I got back in. She calmly looked straight into my eyes and said something that resonates with me to this day, and in a way, laid one of the foundations to my worldview. She said, “If you don’t respect the land, the land will never respect you.”
Spiffy: Mothers can be very wise! Can you tell me how Precious Plastic Fiji is working to create a more equitable world?
Raeed: In our community engagement and outreach activities, we place particular emphasis on including and empowering young people facing multiple drivers of exclusion and marginalization—including young people living with disabilities, ethnic minority young people, indigenous young peoples, young women, and LGBTI youth.
Spiffy: Amazing, Raeed! What an impact! Can you tell me about a recent milestone your organization has achieved? What kind of impact do you anticipate?
Raeed: We have collected over 30 tons of plastic waste from our coastal clean-up campaigns. In 2020, we redirected over 20 tons of plastic waste from landfills by upcycling and recycling. In addition, through the mangrove planting initiatives that we conduct in conjunction with coastal clean-ups, we have planted over 50,000 mangrove plants by working with communities and villages throughout the country. All this is in an effort to strengthen and build natural buffers and mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. We know that the mangrove ecosystem is a breeding ground for many marine organisms, which our people depend on for food.
Precious Plastic Fiji embarking on a mangrove planting session. (Image courtesy of Raeed Roshan Ali)
Spiffy: It’s a large and interconnected web! Can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?
Raeed: For our young team, the concept of providing a hub to address plastic pollution was far-fetched in the beginning, especially because the resources needed to start operations were not forthcoming. All we had was an idea, with minimum to no work experience, no money, and the will to try to tackle a problem of this magnitude. As young people, we also had doubts about the level of impact we would make. However, encountering a large dump of rubbish by the roadside before one of our meetings helped boost our team’s energy to believe in our mission and commit to it. It cleared our doubts and replaced them with a sense of responsibility. We saw an opportunity, NOT a problem, and by waiting for someone else to take action, we realized our creative energy was being wasted.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Raeed, is there anything unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently?
Raeed: Yes, Spiffy, the people who have the most, keep most of what they have, but the people who ARE the most, who LIVE the most, are those who give themselves away—to their country, to a positive idea, and to the people they love. To have a life, you must give your life. It sounds like too much, but it really beats a lavish existence of sleeping, working, and spending. It's odd, but it is service that frees you from slavery.
Spiffy: That’s an oxymoron worth exploring! Keep cleaning up, Raeed, the world needs it! Thanks for telling us all about your, it’s been an honor.
Raeed Ali is a youth and climate activist and a social entrepreneur from Fiji. He is a committee member of 350.org Fiji, an executive team leader at Alliance for Future Generations, and the founder of Precious Plastic Fiji—Fiji’s first youth-led social enterprise providing solutions to plastic pollution. Mr. Ali has been selected as One Young World’s 2021 Leading Pacific Scholar and was nominated as the youngest speaker to ever give a Ted Talk in Fiji. (Nominated by One Young World. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 29, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.