Using popularity and fashion to promote environmental solutions

Three high-school students that got tired of seeing their school being overwhelmed with plastic bottles, teamed up and decided to apply to participate in the country’s first UPSHIFT programme for a chance to influence their peers and clean up their school

The three team members working on their project proposal during the first UPSHIFT workshop in the country
17 December 2018

Teodor, Filip and Damjan weren’t particularly bothered with environmental issues before realizing that all the trashcans in their schools were overfilled with used plastic bottles, every day, every week, all the time. In fact, the trashcans were so full that the plastic bottles were being thrown almost everywhere. So, even when students wanted to use a can to dump their empty water bottles, there was simply no place inside it.

“We had a choice to ask for more trashcans or for bigger trashcans. But we didn’t. We decided to try and influence our peers directly, since there are so many alternatives, that are more environmentally friendly, more economically sound or simply more practical,” Damjan says.

Their idea was to try and motivate other students in their school to carry reusable options such as thermos bottles instead of the plastic water or soda bottles.

“We surveyed students from our school and it turned out that on average every student dumps five empty plastic bottles per week. When you factor in that there are 800 students in our schools, it turns out that every week we leave some 4,000 plastic bottles that aren’t recycled,” Filip explains. “We even calculated that in average, each student spends about 3,750 denars per year on these refreshments. Imagine how much they can save if they bring their drinks from home.”

Filip working on the team's presentation during the first UPSHIFT workshop

Leading by example, their idea to use thermos bottles was quickly picked up in their class. Some of the students even turned bringing thermoses in school into a fashion, presenting nicely designed thermoses and hanging them on the classroom walls during classes, so that they can use them on their breaks. Thanks to a video that they produced, it quickly spread to other classes in their school as well. But they don’t plan to stop there.

These spirited three guys decided to team up and apply to the UPSHIFT programme with their idea to change the mentality of today’s youth regarding their environmental footprint and they were among the best ideas that were selected.

Damjan rehearsing for the final presentation of the team's project during the first UPSHIFT workshop

“Our goal is to increase awareness in our whole school, but in other schools as well, in the capital city of Skopje and throughout the country. This is an important issue for us and we are convinced that the change can happen quickly,” Teodor says.

To help them achieve their goal, they got a chance to strengthen their skills, learn new things, consult with experienced mentors and they even got a financial support to help them in the realization of their idea. During the workshop they learned how important it is to think about making their project sustainable so this eco-friendly trio won’t stop at just raising awareness – they plan on selling branded thermoses that will help them promote the idea and also add an entrepreneurial dimension to the solution.

The three boys and their mentor with the certificates for successful completion of the workshop right after learning that they have been selected as one of the winning teams

“Our slogan is – give up the plastic tool, don’t be an environmental fool,” they say simultaneously.

With this slogan, they are now on the path towards implementing their unique approach of directly influencing their peers by creating a new fashion out of environmentally friendly solutions and by raising awareness on the damages done to the environment by plastic waste.

Organized by CEED Hub Skopje, with the support from the Ministry of Education, the Bureau for Development of Education, the Fund for Innovations and Technical Development and UNICEF, the UPSHIFT programme is designed to support young people like Teodor, Damjan and Filip to become social innovators and entrepreneurs. It combines social innovation workshops, where young people can learn new skills, with mentorship and funding. Young people detect problems in their communities, find innovative solutions for them and through the programme, get support to see their idea becoming a reality. This boosts their resilience, their creativity, their confidence and allows communities to thrive thanks to the solutions that they create.