While some teens are preoccupied with posting photos on Instagram or winning a round of Fortnite, Urbana High School (UHS) rising junior Ember Carrera is busy trying to save planet Earth.
“Composting is essential to a healthy planet,” she said. “The world, particularly the U.S., has an undeniable waste problem.”
Carrera, 16, who resides in Urbana, is concerned with landfills overflowing, unwanted and dangerous debris polluting our oceans, and farms losing their nutrients.
“My parents started composting when I was very young,” she said about sustainability initiatives in her own home. “I knew that that’s how food and the nutrients within it get recycled.”
With her future on her mind, Carrera stepped up to educate the freshman class at UHS at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year about composting properly. As a member of the “Green Team,” she ended the year by guiding students through the process of composting, recycling and separating liquids from their lunch trash.
“My parents met at a nature camp. They have always talked about the environment and other ‘grown-up’ issues with me and my two brothers,” Carrera said, explaining how someone so young can be so focused on an issue many teens have never thought about.
Carrera has witnessed some of her fellow students expressing their desires to remedy some of the environmental ills that Frederick County faces; however, she admits it was difficult to put together a composting team at UHS. Team members were dropping out, but in the midst of the frustration, Carrera remained optimistic and patient. She credits her teacher, Beth McCook, and Bar-T Mountainside Education and Enrichment Composting Working Group founder, Joe Richardson, for garnering support among her peers.
“School is for teaching. Why not teach students how to save themselves by saving the world?” she said about Frederick County Public Schools’ composting program that Richardson helped launch in January 2018 at Urbana High School and January 2019 at Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf. “If enough people show they care, then the necessary changes can be made. On the other hand, if no one shows that they care, the politicians that can affect larger changes will not do so.”
She believes composting is a prudent idea. Schools serve many people and have a unique opportunity to teach them about protecting the Earth for future generations.
“Done properly—it doesn’t smell, it does not waste space in a landfill, it encourages more change, and it gets people thinking,” she said.
Carrera realizes that her community needs to do more than set up a couple of white compost bins in area schools to change the world, but she is optimistic with its launch.
“In schools and businesses, the benefits are two-fold,” she said. “The public is educated on a new form of saving the environment.”
Carrera is not just an advocate in her own home or her Urbana school, but is a successful campaigner when it comes to enlightening political leaders about her environmental passions. Along with advocating for composting in front of the FCPS Board of Education (BOE) and FCPS student government, she has addressed Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor, as well as the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE), briefing leaders on sustainability initiatives in schools and how homes and businesses can mirror these efforts. “… I talked to the Maryland Secretary of the Environment and the Deputy Secretary of Education,” she added. Leaders listening to Carrera’s pleas were moved and interested.
In May, she even spoke about waste management in Washington, D.C., at the Danish Embassy during the European Union’s (EU) Open House.
Even the smallest actions, contends Carrera, can help solve major climate change issues when communities work together.
“I can’t justify doing nothing in the face of my greatest fears. Instead, I dig my feet in and work for a future I can live in,” she
She is excited about the fall school year when 12 additional schools in Frederick County begin composting at lunchtime and hopeful that other Maryland schools will start their own composting programs.
“We are nearing the light on the other side,” she said.
This summer, Carrera enjoyed her days and nights as a counselor at a sleep-away nature camp in West Virginia. When she is not working hard on environmental issues, she likes participating in figure skating and acting in plays. Carrera is a member of the National Math and Thespian honor societies and vice president of the Student Government Association.
“I have learned that (there) is still hope to live in an inhabitable world when I’m 50. We can do it. We can save the world,” she said.