2020 Young Champions of the Earth

(wydf.org.cn)   12:09, June 13, 2022

Fatemah Alzelzela

Regional Winner, West Asia

Bio: 24 years, Electrical engineer, Kuwaiti

Eco Star - trees for waste

Summary of Big Idea

I live and belong to the State of Kuwait, one of the richest countries in the world. Although very wealthy, my state does not have many sustainable solutions in the field of recycling - with 90 percent of waste going directly to Kuwait's 18 growing landfills. There is also a lack of waste oriented data despite high consumption patterns. In addition to our waste-oriented challenges, Kuwait also lacks functioning green areas and has air pollution problems. My organisation, Eco Star comprises a small team focused on the efficient collection of recyclable materials (paper, plastic and metal) working hand-in-hand with recycling factories. In exchange for waste, we work hand-in-hand with major agricultural companies to give plants and trees to individuals and organisations - encouraging the increase in green cover in Kuwait.. For the last year, we have also been working on data capture - the first recent study in the field of waste collection and treatment for Kuwait. To date we have saved tons of materials from landfill and have covered more than 2,000 waste-receiving operations (including homes, schools, companies and restaurants).


My name is Fatima, founder of the Eco Star project. I am 23 years old with a major in electrical engineering and am passionate about spreading environmental awareness about waste as a resource- waste as wealth. After launching Eco Star in my final year of studies, I initially faced a lot of challenges in persuading a society that looks at environmental work with contempt, but after persevering I continue to increase awareness and interactions with this issue within Kuwait and internationally. I won first place in the projects and innovation competition We Unite in 2018 and was the youngest sustainability leader in the SEEDS Platform.

Lefteris Arapakis

Regional Winner, Europe

Bio: 26 years, Entrepreneur, Greek

Mediterranean CleanUp

Summary of Big Idea

Mediterranean fish stocks have been steadily declining with fisherman pulling up plastic in their nets instead. Our idea relates to a wide-scale clean-up of the Mediterranean maritime ecosystem, utilizing a network of fishermen, and the responsible management of the collected waste into the circular economy. We train, empower and incentivise old & new fishermen to collect plastic from the sea - allowing both fish stocks and the ecosystem to recover, while providing a source of income from plastic brought to shore. We focus not only in ocean waste cleanups, but in ocean waste management as well (recycling & upcycling), collaborating with companies to create high quality products such as t-shirts and socks from ocean waste, while at the same time reducing the C02 emissions needed to create these products. In this way, we have created a large-scale, effective, and efficient plastic clean up operation, currently removing more than 1.5 tonnes of marine plastic weekly, and 10 tonnes of discarded fishing gear per year, while making it scalable through working with fishing communities around the globe. Our idea impacts fishing communities in multiple ways:

It reduces poverty by providing an alternative income for these small-scale fishermen, through the stipend they receive for the plastic they haul;

It will enhance the water condition in these locations, which can create a boost in ecotourism;

In addition, the "fishing fields" will become plastic free and the ecosystem restored, leading to an increase of fish stocks over the years and therefore a sustainable increase in income for these fishermen long-term;


Lefteris co-founded Enaleia because he wanted to do something about the Greek economic crisis and the climate crisis. Enaleia has created the first school for professional fishing in Greece and a wide-scale plastic clean up, the Mediterranean CleanUp, through working with fishermen. Lefteris selected to act through the fishing sector because his family have been fishermen for 5 generations. He is a graduate of the Athens University of Economics and Business, a TEDx speaker and an Ashoka Changemaker. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, reading, playing with his dog, and performing improv theatre.

Nzambi Matee 

Regional Winner: Africa

Bio: 29 years, Material engineer, Kenyan

Gjenge Makers - building a greener Kenya

Summary of Big Idea

Gjenge Makers Ltd is a sustainable, alternative and affordable, building products manufacturing company. Gjenge Makers has cut a niche as a manufacturing trailblazer in the provision of beautiful and sustainable alternative building materials. Currently we are producing eco-friendly pavers that are made of a composite of recycled waste plastic and sand. We have partnered with different manufacturers of plastics bottle tops and seals in the beverage and pharmaceutical industries here in Kenya, from whom we collect offcuts and scraps. This is amalgamated with discarded single use plastics that our informal waste collectors deliver to us, which we jointly use to produce the pavers, while providing them with a stable income. We have financially empowered over 112 individuals the majority of whom are women and youth groups who are our partners in supplying the waste plastic and the pre-processing stage of our production process.

The alternative building products space is a very new industry and therein exist a myriad of opportunities. At present we have more demand than we can supply and this is the genesis of our biggest challenge, which is low production capacity. To date, we produce about 500-1000 bricks per day, recycling close to 500 kilograms of plastic waste a day.


I am a self-driven individual, serial entrepreneur and a self-taught hardware designer and mechanical engineer. I have a background in physics and material engineering with a passion for creating sustainable solutions. I used design thinking experience to start Gjenge Makers with the mission to convert plastic waste into lower cost alternative building products, hence tackling plastic waste pollution and Kenya's inadequate housing problem.

Xiaoyuan Ren

Regional Winner, Asia and the Pacific

Bio: 29 years, Environmental engineer, Chinese

MyH2O - a data platform for clean water

Summary of Big Idea

Over 300 million residents in rural China don't have consistent access to clean drinking water. Due to a lack of information on drinking water quality in rural China, this issue has long been neglected. Various clean water solution providers attempt to reach these communities with innovative resources but there is little data to help guide these resources to where they are needed most. MyH2O - Water Information Network was established to tackle exactly this problem. Through a nationwide collaborative youth volunteer network, MyH2O aims to collect clean water data, diagnose water problems on a case-by-case basis, with the goal to connect data-driven water resources and solutions to the underprivileged communities in need and improve their overall health. Over the last few months, our network has grown to over 100 field teams covering 3800+ datasets in close to 1000 villages across 26 provinces and has successfully delivered clean water stations to tens of thousands of villagers in China.


Xiaoyuan "Charlene" Ren is the founder of MyH2O, a data platform connecting clean water resources to rural communities in China. She received a B.A. from Vassar College and dual M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Technology and Policy at MIT, researching the water monitoring policy in rural India which evolved into an ongoing MIT/India initiative "Data for Improved Governance". She's a 2016 Echoing Green Fellow and Forbes 2019 "30 Under 30" in Social Entrepreneurship and one of BBC's 100 Woman (2019). She was also a Chinese representative for Homeward Bound's all-female STEM leadership expedition in Antarctica.

Vidyut Mohan

Regional Winner, Asia and the Pacific

Bio: 29 years, Entrepreneur, Indian

Takachar: Harvesting value from agricultural waste

Summary of Big Idea

Takachar's goal is to dramatically increase the amount of waste biomass (post-harvest crop/forest residues) transformed into marketable products around the world, and reduce the pollution associated with open-air biomass burning. By deploying small-scale, low cost, portable biomass upgrading equipment, Takachar enables rural farmers to earn 40% more by converting their crop residues into fuels, fertilizers and value-added chemicals like activated carbon (AC) on-site. By choosing activated carbon (AC) as the starting market, Takachar brings this value chain to the doorstep of farmers and hence reduces air pollution associated with crop residue burning, while ensuring a stable, renewable, pollution free and financially lucrative raw material supply for the AC industry vs. traditional fossil based sources. By 2030, Takachar will impact 300 million farmers affected by this problem, create $4 billion/year equivalent in additional rural income and jobs, and mitigate one gigaton/year of CO2 equivalent.


Vidyut Mohan is the co-founder of Takachar, a social enterprise enabling farmers to prevent open burning of their waste farm residues and earn extra income by converting the residues into value-added chemicals like activated carbon on-site. Passionate about energy access and supporting rural livelihoods, Vidyut became interested in biomass-based energy/chemical development due to its untapped potential and close association with farmers. In the past he worked with Simpa Networks, where he developed Pay-as-you-go solar home systems for rural households in India. Vidyut is a 2019 Echoing Green Fellow, and a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 awardee.

Niria Alicia Garcia

Regional Winner, North America

Bio: 28 years, Indigenous environmental activist, American

Run4Salmon - indigenous-lead conservation

Summary of Big Idea

The United Nations recognizes that Indigenous peoples represent less than 5% of the population yet we steward over 80% of the world's biodiversity. In the face of climate change, ecological collapse and pandemics, indigenous-led species restoration is key to building a resilient future that can withstand and thrive as climate change continues to unravel. Coupled with advocacy, campaigns and indigenous curriculum, the Run4Salmon prayerful journey for the past 4 years has engaged government officials, lawyers, advocates and everyday people on the 300-mile journey that the endangered Chinook salmon make along the waters of California's largest watershed to inspire, educate and engage people in restoring this endangered keystone species that is essential to the health of California lands and waters. As we work to make this life-changing journey accessible for all in the times of COVID-19, we are working to make this tour accessible to anyone anywhere through a virtual reality video.


I am a Xicana human rights advocate, climate justice organizer, educator and storyteller dedicated to protecting the sacredness of Mother Earth and the dignity of historically oppressed peoples. I graduated Cum Laude from the University of Oregon with degrees in environmental studies, Latin American studies and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. In 2019 my climate justice work earned me the national 'Emerging Leader Award' from GreenLatinos' and the internationally recognized 'EE 30 under 30' award from the North American Association for Environmental Education. I am also a Human Rights masters candidate at Columbia University.

Max Hidalgo Quinto

Regional Winner, Latin America and the Caribbean

Bio: 30 years, Scientist and entrepreneur, Peruvian

YAWA: Sustainable technology for access to water

Summary of Big Idea

Yawa is a portable, multifunctional and sustainable technology capable of obtaining up to 300L of water per day from atmospheric humidity and mist. This technology can be applied to provide access to drinking water to communities, in agricultural and forestry projects, and for the irrigation of green buildings. Yawa is an alternative that will allow us to prepare for the future in the face of an imminent water shortage that 33 countries will suffer in the world in the year 2040.


I am currently CEO of the startup YAWA. I am a scientific advisor, inventor and social entrepreneur, convinced that science and technology with a social and environmental focus can help us build a better world. My awards include: Winner of the History Channel international contest, " An Idea to Change History"; Winner of the XVI National Invention Competition of Peru in the Telecommunications and Electronics category, and the Energy Efficiency Award organized by the DBA Group; and innovation mentor in 1551 Incubator of innovative companies at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in 2017.

(editor: Wenjing, Guo)

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