2022 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Cameron Troxel, 18, (Catawba), of Rock Hill, South Carolina, dream project is “For the River,” which aims to address plastic pollution in the Catawba River and accompanying waterways.

“The project will involve educating the community on why recycling is important and the many different ways we can give the plastic a new life,” Cameron stated in his Dreamstarter application. He explained that his goal is to rally volunteers to clean up the river and collect plastic waste which he will then take to a recycling center “where we can process the plastic and turn them into new products. “I would like to incorporate the Catawba culture into these products and teach members of the community to take better care of the environment,” says Cameron.

Cameron’s dream begins with a question – “What do you do with plastic waste? “Plastic pollution plagues the waterways of the Catawba River and along her banks. My dream project will help tackle this issue.” His project will first begin “with educating members of the community about the effects of what we put into the environment and how we can help decrease littering and pollution. By giving this plastic waste a new life, we are showing that this project is not only environmental but also economical.” Following that, Cameron will begin scheduling river cleanup days that will involve community-wide volunteer efforts to pick up trash and while also providing incentives for those who collect the most garbage measured by weight.

“We want these events to make our community feel unified in a common goal,” says Cameron. And instead of taking all that plastic trash to a landfill, “The third part of the project will consist of us bringing back this plastic waste to processing machines inside our cultural center that will turn the plastic into different materials. “We will show the community that we can transform this plastic into useful products.” Cameron intends to buy these machines with his $10,000 Dreamstarter grant, which will in-turn create native-inspired jewelry, recycling bins, tables, benches, and gardening bins out of the plastic.

Cameron says he got the idea for his “river cleanup movement” while sitting in his marine biology class during his senior year in high school. “I remember thinking that this a large problem in my community because the river is our lifeline,” he told us. “The Catawba people are known as the ‘People of The River.’ We spend a lot of time on the river and take many resources from it. “Plastic pollution is a problem because it gets into the resources that we eat and drink, which then exposes my people to microplastics. “This is a huge health risk. Hopefully we can make our rivers cleaner and in turn have it benefit the health of the Catawba community.

“In conclusion, with this environmental project I want to reach members of the tribal and non-tribal communities alongside the Catawba River, and help these locals have a greater appreciation of the environment and our sacred waterways.”

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