Charlie’s story: The real power is in showing people why they should care about an issue.

Charlie, 28, from Manchester, UK, is the founder of zero waste shop Life Before Plastik. She was inspired to cut plastic from her life – and the lives of others – after returning from volunteering in Nepal back in 2018, where she saw how climate education can change attitudes. With plastic production expected to double by 2050, Charlie is passionate about using her role as Youth Champion for Zero Waste for the Action Not Excuses campaign to promote sustainable actions people can take in their lives. 

I used to work in the finance sector in London. I always knew I cared about the environment, but that job really showed me that not everyone felt the same way as me. Little things like colleagues printing every sheet of paper, or the company’s blasé attitude to recycling became non-negotiables for me. So, one day I quit.

Volunteering with Raleigh International in a remote rural Nepalese village gave me experience in working on climate change issues. I saw the scale of plastic waste – but also how quickly people could positively change long-held habits. When I returned home I knew I had lots of power to make a difference here in the UK.

I set up a zero-waste shop, Life Before Plastik, which I have been running ever since.

If I change the minds of five people, they can change five more.

I have seen how people can change their behaviour and that of those around them. It is very difficult for us as individuals to change the actions of corporations and governments. But on a personal level, if I can convince five people to switch to a bamboo toothbrush, and they can convince five people more, then that impact is really large.

It is important to show people why they should care about an issue. And sometimes that means sharing positive news that goes under the radar. The news can be bleak, especially now, but by talking about good things happening, people can think optimistically and truly believe that their actions are making a difference in the fight for zero waste.

Young people have seen the climate crisis through different eyes.

Young people need a seat at the table. Our views need to count hugely in this whole process. After all, we have learned things differently. We see the world through different eyes. You only need to look at Greta or any of the so many other young activists that are out there to see that we are pushing for change in a way that older leaders just are not doing.

I would love for world leaders to start taking tangible action. The UK’s ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ goes some way to tackling certain things like the rollout of electric vehicles or planting trees. But there is a huge list of things that I would like them to do, and most importantly I would like countries to communicate with each other better.

I would like to see that they can actually come to agreements and stick to them. I want to see them encourage collaborative working, whether that be internally with grassroots activists who are seeing change happening, like young people; but also, on a much bigger international scale, working with other governments to learn from each other.

The same group are being hit hardest by the pandemic and climate change.

The pandemic is not an excuse for inaction. Governments are made up of more than one person and they can cope with dealing with more than one issue simultaneously. Hopefully, we will soon be over the first hurdle of the pandemic. But it is no coincidence that those most affected by the pandemic are also those most likely to feel the effects of climate change.

Covid-19 has got governments acting – and rightly so – but I wish the same could be done for climate change, because it is a bigger issue. It is going to affect generations upon generations for thousands of years: if we even make it that far. A lot of young people like me who are passionate about this want to see change happening from all areas.

We should stop talking about the reasons we cannot do things.

It is a massive honour to be chosen as a Youth Champion for Action Not Excuses alongside other activists from around the world who are doing some equally amazing things. It is quite hard to look at yourself and be like, oh, what I am doing is actually quite cool. It is so important to stop talking about all the reasons why we cannot do things, and to focus on the actions that we can do.

We are at a unique moment right now, and Action Not Excuses can be the stepping stone we all need from tackling the pandemic to keeping climate change on the agenda. As you get older, you settle and find other elements in life that become priorities. Young people have the benefit of a knowledge and energy behind them that is so powerful when harnessed.

There are people out there who feel the same way as you.

To young people looking to find ways to start taking action, my answer is simple: get involved with us and join Action Not Excuses!

If you are passionate about an issue, just go ahead and do it. The internet is your best friend in terms of finding other people who are interested in the same thing as you. If, like me, you are interested in zero waste, there’s loads of different resources on Instagram, and Google is the best way to find local groups near you.

And if nothing exists near you, start it up. Speak to others around to see if they will join. Something as small as a litter pick on your own has the power to grow and grow as people like you join your initiative. If you are passionate about something, do something about it and you will see the results that come.


Charlie is a Youth Champion for Action Not Excuses – Raleigh International’s first youth-led global environmental campaign. You can find out more about the campaign and Charlie’s theme Fight for Zero Waste here.

Action Not Excuses will be a platform for young people to raise their voices about the urgent issues facing our planet. ActionNotExcuses.org and join the movement.