This fall, Catawba Riverkeeper was proud to host the CLT Future 2020 Competition presented by Catawba Research. The scholarship competition challenged high school students to explore and solve local environmental problems. Catawba Riverkeeper, and our partner nonprofits – Clean Air Carolina, Carolina Thread Trail, Sustain Charlotte, Carolina Raptor Center, and Anne Springs Close Greenway – each mentored a finalist as they prepared an on-stage presentation of their solutions.

Our finalist was Katie T., a local 10th Grader whose presentation tackled the issue of plastic bags accumulating in our waterways. Katie developed plans for a rewards program for people that turn in their unused plastic bags to be recycled with additional incentives to pick up littered plastic bags too. Katie didn’t stop there; her plan to include a program to help stores encourage people to ditch plastic bags by offering multiple alternatives to customers. She called her proposal “The Better Bag Project.”

After the competition, Education Coordinator Morgan Long was able to catch up with Katie and see what the CLT Future Competition was really like from a finalist’s point of view.

Below is an excerpt from Morgan’s interview with Katie.

Morgan:  What first sparked your interest in caring for the environment?

Katie: “I think I’ve always had something in me that cares for the environment and everything in it. I love spending time outdoors and always have, I find everything about nature simply beautiful, like everything is its own work of art. Additionally, I really wanted to focus on spreading awareness to others. Having them think about their impact or give them ways to help, so we could work on saving the Earth together and making a real difference.”

Morgan: Where did your idea for this specific project arise from?

Katie: “One of the main things in my mind when I was coming up with my idea was the “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan… Keeping those three points in mind, I basically took inspiration from some of my past experiences, and combined that with what I already knew about the people and places I was going to target. Then I did lots and lots of research, planning, and thinking, to come up with my solutions.”

Morgan: Do you feel you gained any new skills?

Katie: “One thing I really appreciate is that I learned how to put my ideas into a plan and convert that into actions. I was also able to practice my public speaking and presenting skills, which this competition really helped with. Overall, I believe I am now more confident in myself and the things that I have the potential to do.”

CRF: Do you think this competition will help you in your future education and/or career?

Katie: “Yes, 100%. This competition actually made me realize I want to study the environment in college and have a career that is associated with it. Before competing, I was unsure of what exactly I wanted to do and which of my passions to follow. But afterwards, it really opened my eyes and made it clear to me that I want to pursue a career that helps the environment in any way possible. This competition also educated me in the types of jobs and organizations that are out there that specially focus on helping the environment.”

CRF: If you have any advice to give future contestants, what would it be?

Katie: “Don’t be afraid to go all in with your ideas. The possibilities for what you can think of are truly endless, so make sure to think big instead of limiting yourself… don’t be nervous or scared of [your ideas], be eager to learn and accept whatever new challenges you might face.”

This competition brought boundless opportunities for all involved. From the students to the non-profits, every participant left feeling more empowered and encouraged about the future of our planet thanks to the creative ideas and passion evident in these students lives. Working alongside Katie was a true pleasure for the staff here at the Riverkeeper and we wish Katie the best with her educational career and hope to expand on the CLT Future Competition in the future.