Impressive. That’s one of the favorite words of Nigerian-Israeli environmental activist Sharona Shnayder, and when I told her we could meet for lunch at one of her favorite cafes in Tel Aviv, a block from her office, that’s what she said.

Coffee is Instagram ready. And Shnayder, in her black sweater and incredibly long, colorful braids, fits perfectly. It’s a photoshoot that’s just waiting to happen. In fact, she’s a politician just begging to arrive.

“My focus is on politics because without legislation nothing can change,” said Shnayder, 21.

Shnayder, who moved to Israel last May, is the co-founder and CEO of Tuesdays for Trash, a global environmental movement that encourages people around the world to devote at least one day a week to garbage collection.

Sharona Shnayder throws the garbage she has picked up on a street in Tel Aviv. Photo by Diana Bletter

Shnayder started the movement during a Covid lockdown in May 2020, as she was eager to get out of her room at Portland State University and “do something.” Putting on masks and gloves, she and a friend, Wanda McNealy, began collecting trash.

They did it the next week, then the next, and the initiative became Tuesdays for Trash. In just over a year, Shnayder has expanded the movement to 23 countries with 10 chapters.

And since arriving in Israel, Shnayder has immersed himself in a mind-boggling assortment of environmental activities, including speaking at high schools and protests and sowing seeds for his political future.

Like an apocalypse

The young environmental activist was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Nigerian mother and an Israeli father. When she was eight, she moved with her father to Tualatin, a small suburb of Portland, Oregon, where she grew up.

Sharona Shnayder cleans a beach. Photo by Kseniia Poliak; makeup by Paula Fay; styling by Lilya Kubrick

She was in college when she watched Greta Thunberg from Sweden speak to the United Nations. At the time, Shnayder was studying accounting.

“I was good too,” Shnayder said, “but I realized I don’t want to spend my life figuring out numbers if there isn’t a planet. As much as that is a cliché, so much is it? ‘is right.

She didn’t have to look far to see the disastrous effects of climate change. All around her in Oregon, forest fires were spreading.

“I was looking at the red sky and all the smoke and it almost felt like we were in an apocalypse,” she said.

“The weather was 116 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the Sahara. The cable lines were melting. Sweating is not even healthy. Your body cannot regulate, so you can suffocate. Breathing outside for an hour was like smoking a pack of cigarettes.

She told me all this before I even looked at the cafe menu. After deciding what she wanted to eat, she spoke about her new position at Albo Climate.

“I’m basically trying to ask people to let me live. I would like to be a part of this planet that I call my home.

“It’s like my dream job,” she says. “It’s a high-tech startup that uses satellite imagery and A1 to map and monitor carbon sequestration.”

She paused to take a quick breath. “It’s a way of removing carbon from the air and putting it back into the ground. Our company works with projects in Africa that work on forest management and regenerative agriculture.

I asked her how she got the job.

“Like everything that works in Israel, through a WhatsApp group,” she said.

A strategic move

Shnayder had never been to Israel when she considered settling there. At university, she became involved with the Union of Jewish Students. “The students there were so funny and made me feel so welcome,” she said.

Although her father is Israeli, this was the first time she began to explore her Jewish roots. She took a Birthright Trip last year and then continued with a Masa Israel Journey program as an intern at UBQ Materials, a company that promotes recycling and waste management. She decided to stay in Israel.

“It was a strategic decision for me,” she said, no longer sounding like a spirited college graduate but more like the CEO of herself.

“I know, I think about everything too much,” she said. “But in Oregon, I was scared. I thought, how am I going to live? What do I have to do to survive? “

Israel, she explained, is the country where innovation occurs. “Israel can be a leader in the world in setting standards for a sustainable society. We have the ability to implement widespread change if we can get people to care. “

Why is this important?

Shortly after Shnayder’s arrival, she started the Israeli chapter of Tuesdays for Trash and held weekly cleanups in Tel Aviv.

Sharona Shnayder and her friends do a Tuesday Cleanup for Beach Trash. Photo courtesy of Sharona Shnayder

Her group will be participating in the National Beach Cleanup Day on December 3, and she hopes to organize cross-cultural cleanups in Tel Aviv and Jaffa with HaBayit (TheHome), which sponsors the Israeli-Palestinian dialogues and garbage cleanup “Cleaning the Hate “.

“I know a lot of people ask, ‘Why is this important? “Because there is so much garbage,” Shnayder said. “But if billions of people in the world pick up a piece, that’s seven billion pieces. “

There is also an important aspect of awareness. “It makes you think, ‘Hey, this is going back to a landfill. Then you think, “Who is responsible for the waste? It is an educational tool. It is a gateway to action.

In a recent interview with a high school in Zichron Ya’akov, Shnayder explained to the students what they could do. “The high school kids can be very bratty, but the students were captivated,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know how they can help. “

The plastic problem

Sharona Shnayder eats lunch at Citizen Garden, Tel Aviv. Photo by Diana Bletter

After snapping a photo of his dish when it arrived at our table (“It looks so good I don’t want to eat it”), Shnayder pricked up his ears as a song started playing backwards. -plan at the cafe.

“I love this song,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s Milky Chance! This is the first concert I attended. They try to organize concerts in a sustainable way; they don’t use bottled water.

She ate some of her food and continued, “Recycling makes people feel more comfortable buying plastic products. But most manufacturers don’t buy recycled plastic. It’s much easier to buy virgin plastic.

She said businesses “don’t want to make the change and our governments allow them to keep making money. As much as I would like to think that companies care and would be ethical, they are not.

Israel needs laws that “hold big business – producers and manufacturers – accountable for the plastic pollution created,” she said.

Shnayder would like the government to implement incentives and subsidize environmentally friendly materials that can replace plastic, as well as tax breaks for using renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.

No safe place

Although a newcomer, she was one of the speakers at an October 25 protest with Extinction Rebellion and other environmental activists outside the residence of Israeli President Isaac Herzog as the Israeli delegation to talks on the climate of the United Nations COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, met the President inside. .

Shnayder said she felt, in some ways, that she and other environmental activists gave up their childhood to force governments to make changes.

“I don’t like to wake up and think about these issues,” she said. “I would love to follow my dreams and live my life, but if we continue, as usual, for the next seven years, we are not going to survive.”

A Tuesday meeting for trash cans in Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of Sharona Shnayder

She points out that forest fires are becoming more intense and that sea level rise has accelerated rapidly.

“By 2050, we will have 200 million climate refugees,” she said. “It’s unavoidable. There is no place that is safe.

In Israel, she would like to see a “stronger education system around climate and environment so that our society can be equipped with the knowledge and understanding to work towards a sustainable future.” We are in a generational battle to determine the quality of life for our future on this planet. “

This planet we call home

When she doesn’t have “strategic thinking,” as she puts it, Shnayder enjoys spending time in the Israeli national park near her home in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

“I’m just sitting there and in this space, where there is a lot of water and trees. It’s really cool to be so still and to be part of nature, ”she said. She believes Jewish values ​​should lead Israelis “to take concrete steps to take care of their homes.”

Starting in January, every Birthright trip that comes to Israel can put Tuesdays for trash on its itinerary.

“It could be influential and impact as part of your lifestyle of taking care of the environment and loving your community,” she said. “Much like Shabbat for the soul, Tuesday could be the day for sustainability.”

“Do you still speak through sound clips?” ” I asked.

“Well, I write a lot about these issues so I’m good at them,” she said. “I just have to learn Hebrew to get the point across.”

She is now in an ulpan, a crash course in learning Hebrew, so she can get into politics. She saw learning the language as one more obstacle, a minor challenge, as opposed to saving the planet, let’s say.

“Do you feel a bit like Chicken Little, may the sky fall on you?” I asked.

“There is something called climate catastrophism that is affecting environmental activists. It’s easy to maintain a mindset of negativity, “she admitted, but she has a remarkably optimistic aura even when she makes apocalyptic statements:” Ultimately, if we don’t face it. reality and don’t even make small changes, then we’re going to die. “

She paused before continuing.

“I’m basically trying to ask people to let me live. I would like to be a part of this planet that I call my home.

Speaking of home, she plans to visit her mother in Lagos, Nigeria in December. She said her mother had already given her a list of what to bring.

“Like what?” I asked.

She smiled and said, “Nutella and Bamba.”