When two sisters entered a photo contest last year, they were really hoping that at least one of them would win the top prize, a DSLR camera. What they didn’t expect was that both would win a trip to Copenhagen that would change their lives – plus the cameras – and $500 for their school.
Jennifer Taylor, 19, and her sister Kimberley, 17, entered the Litter Less contest run by Environmental Defence, a Canadian organization with a focus on raising awareness of environmental issues and inspiring change by educating young people about those issues. Environmental Defence is also the Canadian member of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). FEE is an international organization, with members around the globe, that focuses on educating the public on the environment. The contest is part of an international project by FEE.
“I found the contest online and thought it would be cool to enter, because we both like photography and I was also part of an environmental club at my high school,” said Jennifer, now a second-year student at Queen’s University. “It was a great opportunity to combine both photography and our passion for the environment.”
Kimberley’s photo submission depicts a rusty old bicycle abandoned by the Don River, a sort of ironic icon of how bicycles are part of a sustainable environment plan, yet one sits alone as part of the growing garbage dumped in the area.
“As a major waterway, you would think that the areas around the Don River should be clean. I was very surprised to see so much garbage around there,” explained Jennifer, whose photo depicts a decaying water bottle on the rocks next to the river.
After winning the contest, the two Upper Beach teens, who were two of four Canadian winners, learned that part of the prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to Copenhagen, Denmark as part of an environmental mission. This was the girls’ first trip outside of North America.
“Copenhagen is known as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world,” said Kimberley.
“The first thing we noticed when we arrived was the number of bicycles on the streets, there were so many,” said Jennifer.
Copenhagen, which boasts over 350 km of bike lanes, was named the first official Bike City in the world last year, according to Denmark’s official website.
The five-day trip was filled with learning activities and sharing of views between the Canadian girls and representatives from another five countries: Montenegro, Romania, France and Germany. One of the educational activities had a group of students go out and shop for groceries that would make a meal that was environmentally sustainable. Each member was given only 50 Kroner, equivalent to approximately $9 CDN, to buy produce grown locally, products with minimal packaging, and avoid buying meat.
“People need to know how much they impact the environment individually,” said Kimberley. “Most don’t know how much trash they throw out, and think they don’t make that much of a difference by themselves.”
She said people should be more aware of the effect their lifestyles have on the environment.
Jennifer also hopes that awareness will change people’s way of life and the decisions they make on a daily basis.
“Whether it be more people cycling or buying things with less package, or buying things that are grown locally, it’s important for people to start doing something to help environment issues and prevent future ones,” said Jennifer.
Both sisters also agreed that Toronto needs more bike lanes, especially in the East End. “It’s something that lacks in Toronto, a better bike system,” said Kimberley, who bikes to school downtown. “I take my bike to school because I get there faster, it gives me a workout, and I save money.”
As part of the winnings, the girls get $500 to spend at their school on environmental awareness projects. Kimberley is hoping to spend that money on bringing a keynote speaker to her school, and “build a sustainable ecosystem in the school, perhaps an aquarium.”
Jennifer hopes to continue her involvement in environmental issues by participating in various groups at Queen’s University.