Caring for the environment  |  10 Apr 2019

A 16-year-old student with a passion for the environment has organised a Christchurch conference and tree planting day for young people.

E Wen Wong, a Year 12 student at Burnside High School, is the founder of plastic pollution organisation P.S Our Beaches, and the driver behind an upcoming EnviroPAST (Plastic and Sustainability Talks) conference being held at the Christchurch Art Gallery on Friday, 12 April and Saturday, 13 April.

Burnside High School student E Wen Wong.

Burnside High School student E Wen Wong, 16, wants young people to know they can make a difference and help improve the environment.

The conference is focused on environmental education for young people aged between 12 and 24.

Following workshops and talks by guest speakers, the conference will include native tree planting on Friday. Conference attendees will be transported by bus to Styx Mill Conservation Reserve, where they will take part in a planting and education session with Trees for Canterbury staff, before sharing a barbecue.

 About 500 plants have been donated by Christchurch City Council for the day, and another 500 have been donated by local non-profit nursery Trees for Canterbury.

E Wen has been working on spreading awareness about the environment and climate change since she was 10 years old. She researched the topic “Ocean Soup” for the 2013 Future Problem Solving National Finals and became passionate about reducing single-use plastics.

“The prospect of our oceans housing more plastic than fish wasn't one to be overlooked, even by a 10-year-old,” she says.

At age 13 she founded P.S Our Beaches (A Plastic Solution for Our Beaches), which aims to clear beaches, waterways and oceans of single-use plastic. That has now become a worldwide community-led project with initiatives in Portugal, Thailand and Singapore.

E Wen, who received a 2018 New Zealand Youth Award for her commitment to the environment, started planning the EnviroPAST conference at the end of last year because she wanted young people to know they can make a difference.

“I contacted a range of inspiring environmental figures and was thrilled that so many were keen to present at our conference.”

They include Ian Shaw, a toxicology professor at the University of Canterbury, Raquelle de Vine,Director of Education and Research Programmes for Algalita South Pacific, Helena Ruffell, a Masters student at University of Canterbury who is researching microplastics, and Chair of Parliament's Environment Select Committee, Deborah Russell.

E Wen and her team also arranged sponsors and contacted staff at Christchurch Art Gallery who agreed to support the conference by providing the venue for free.

Along with her environmental work, E Wen admits she is incredibly busy and “enjoys making the most of every opportunity”.

She is a talented musician who performed as an oboe soloist at the Sparks concert in Hagley Park in February which she describes as a “super cool experience”. She also plays the saxophone, writes poetry, sits on the Burnside High School Board of Trustees and is a United Nations Youth Ambassador.

In the future, she plans to study environmental law or policy analysis and set up an environmental social enterprise.

Council Biodiversity Team Leader Antony Shadbolt says E Wen’s commitment and energy is admirable. “It’s impressive to see someone so young taking the initiative to organise an event like this that combines education and practical action. The Council was happy to provide support by donating plants so conference attendees can help create something positive.”