Influencing factors: Inspiring green behaviours using social media


Social media

Circular magazine caught up with green campaigner and activist Laura Young to find out how she leverages social media to get her political voice heard.

From an early age, Laura Young has loved the countryside. She describes geography as the only subject she really enjoyed at school and talks fondly about how the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme introduced her to the great outdoors. In 2014, she went on to study for a degree in geography and environmental science at the University of Dundee.

“I loved that you could learn about nature and people and how the two interact,” she says. “In my final year, Blue Planet was on the BBC, which really started people talking about the impact we are having on our environment: climate change, plastic in the ocean, the Anthropocene. I decided to try to make changes to my own life and live more sustainably – a kind of New Year’s resolution.

Laura Young“Soon I had people asking me questions. What is that brand of shampoo bar you’re using? How can I recycle this? I realised, there were a lot of people interested in all this stuff, so maybe I could start talking about it online.”

Young started an Instagram account, called Less Waste Laura, and started posting about her journey to lead a more sustainable life. That was just over five years ago – and things have certainly grown since then.

She is now a leading voice campaigning for environmental change and you’re as likely to hear her on Radio 4’s Today programme as you are on social media. She’s also talking at the Scottish Resources Conference on 3 October. “It’s gone from recommendations of waste-free products to communicating the knowledge I’ve learned academically from my studies and campaigning for change,” she says.

Alongside developing her role as an environmental social media influencer, Young has picked up a Master’s degree in environmental protection and management at the University of Edinburgh, writing her thesis Improving sustainability through effective waste management. She is currently studying for a PhD.

When it comes to waste, messaging is all over the place: you can recycle your pizza box; oh, now you can’t.

“In the past few years, I’ve just been trying to help people understand what can sometimes be a complicated area. When it comes to waste, messaging is all over the place: you can recycle your pizza box; oh, now you can’t.

“You can recycle plastic, but not that type of plastic. It’s just not straightforward. Alongside helping with that, I’m also trying to get across important messages about the link between waste and climate change, fossil-fuel tax havens, deposit return schemes, that kind of thing.”

One of the biggest topics Young has campaigned on in recent times is disposable vapes – a subject on which she has strong views and has spoken about passionately in mainstream media.

Laura Young
Young has previously spoken to Circular Online about her campaign to ban disposable vapes.

“I don’t like the idea of banning things – I don’t think anyone wants to live in a draconian society where we’re banning anything that has a flaw. But when you learn about disposable vapes – the waste, the recycling inefficiencies, the fire risk, the sales to underage people, the poor trading standards – all of these things add up and make me think ‘yes, we need to ban them’,” she says.

“I have an expectation that these companies should be thinking about waste regulations as closely as possible and designing products accordingly – making them modular or dismantlable, that there is an appropriate disposal network, and that there are return points. But none of this has happened.

“I think partly this is due to government not keeping tabs on what’s happening. We know they’ve not been working with the vaping companies to ensure best design and they’ve not been following up to say: ‘Hold on, you sell millions of pounds worth of these things – where are your take-back points? How are you recycling them?’,” she says.

Young also questions how such products were allowed onto the market in the first place, and what it will lead to. “How did we let disposable electronics in? I honestly don’t know. And my worry is what will follow? I’m hearing now of disposable single-use power banks with just enough charge to get your phone working. Just one charge then chuck it away; that’s insane.”

“Undeniably political”

Houses of Parliament

Young describes herself, and her activism, as “undeniably political” and insists that green issues such as waste and resource are inherently political, but would she ever take the plunge and go into party politics?

“I can’t see myself aligning with any party if I’m honest, but I think that’s maybe me wanting to love every part of something before I join it,” she laughs. “I’ve always enjoyed being on the outside, shouting in. And I think as soon as you step into that sphere, your hands can become tied. Often you can’t talk about schemes with honesty, because there’s stuff going on in the background that you’ve got to keep confidential.

Laura Young“I’d never say never, but I think I’ll wait to see what happens with Scotland’s independence, then work out if we’ve got some new political parties,” she says.

Communicating a strong green message to a broad audience with authenticity and passion is Young’s speciality and something she says that the waste and resource sector could be doing better. ‘Within the waste industry, there are just amazing pieces of knowledge.

All these different issues are discussed and debated but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t ever really break out into the general public. I would like to see the waste industry doing much bigger campaigns around problematic products and the impact of getting waste wrong.

“I think a lot of people see waste and the plastic problem as completely separate from climate change. And that’s something that needs to change.”

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