PEDESTRIAN.TV has partnered with Converse to get you making smarter choices for the environment.

Having recently turned 30, I feel like I’m now well within my right to begin any sentence with “young kids these days”. And you know what? Having had a chin wag with climate advocate and excellent human Varsha Yajman – all I can say is that young kids these days are incredible. Who raised them to be so bloody impressive?

When Varsha was in high school she was doing things like talking about climate justice on Q&A. Now in her early 20s, she’s organising and mobilising huge environmental protests and partnering with Converse to launch a virtual store on an Ocean Garbage Patch. That’s right, if you want to buy super sustainable sneakers, help raise awareness about ocean trash and feel proud knowing that all proceeds from your new shoes are going to sea clean up efforts – you now can at Converse’s virtual Renew Labs store.

Here’s what Varsha had to say about sustainability and shopping for climate justice:

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A post shared by Varsha (@varsha.yajman)

PTV: Alright, tell us about the Ocean Garbage Patch? Is it really just a giant pile of rubbish?

Varsha Yajman: Yep. The ocean garbage patch is essentially a vortex of trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that has 80 million tons of plastic and about 70% of that marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean. This has a significant effect on marine animals and the wider ecosystem as the plastic and fishing nets get stuck around animals and are many times ingested. 

PTV: Varsha, how did you become involved with the Renew Labs store? 

VY: My background is in climate justice advocacy, I’ve been involved in mobilising, organising protests and support for the climate movement since I was 16. However, the pandemic made organising really difficult and I have been on the lookout for different avenues to advocate for climate justice. 

When I got an Instagram DM from Converse about building a virtual store on the Garbage Patch, at first I was confused. But then I became intrigued – I’d never heard of anything like this being done before. The pandemic really made me reflect on the importance of having multiple avenues working toward climate justice. This virtual store is an innovative pathway towards a more sustainable future. 

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A post shared by Varsha (@varsha.yajman)

PTV: Do you have any practical tips for people trying to be more sustainable? 

VY: Start small. I think people can feel pressured to go fully vegan or buy an electric car and you can sometimes be criticised for not “doing enough”. But it really is about doing what you can. Using beeswax wraps instead of cling wrap, having one vegetarian or vegan meal a day, upcycling clothes rather than buying fast fashion. 

PTV: Real talk – what’s the climate change fact that most scares you? 

VY: Hearing that we are currently on track for a 4 degree celsius rise really puts the climate crisis into perspective. Basically, 4 degrees means increased risks for food production, potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; the disappearance of coastal communities; unprecedented natural disasters; and the irreversible loss of biodiversity, including the coral reef system. 

PTV: What is the one thing you’d like to see all Australians do in aid of climate justice?

VY: Understand their power. Every single one of us has the power to not only acknowledge that climate change is damaging our future but also the power to make a change whether that be switching super funds, voting for parties with a strong climate policy in elections or simply having conversations about it. We need everyone on board to ensure our future and the future of generations to come is safe and sustainable. 

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A post shared by Varsha (@varsha.yajman)

PTV: What excites you most about the garbage patch store? 

VY: The most exciting aspect of the Renew Labs store for me is the awareness it creates and the community it builds. By shopping on a virtual store on the Pacific Garbage Patch, all sales go to removing garbage and every sale also reminds the person shopping that they have the power to make a difference in an issue that feels so distant.

This initiative also builds a community with people sharing that they bought a pair of shoes in a virtual store with their friends and family, spreading awareness about the garbage patch. Especially during a time like the pandemic, we need more avenues that can raise awareness about climate justice and people power and I think Renew Labs is the perfect way.

Image: ABC / @varsha.yajman