Brower Youth Awards

Mercedes Thompson and Claire Wayner

Baltimore, MD

Working towards a plastic-free Maryland

In 2016, Claire Wayner and Mercedes Thompson co-founded Baltimore Beyond Plastic, a youth-led, action-oriented organization that aims to reduce plastic pollution in Baltimore. Wayner and Thompson, who are sharing an award this year, were inspired to act after learning about the public health impacts that arise from plastic pollution, such as those associated with a local incinerator that spews toxic pollutants in their home city. (Baltimore burns 70 percent of its trash.) Their experience of inequity was heightened when Thompson learned that the styrofoam trays used for their school lunches, as well as for the lunches of millions of students across the country, leach carcinogens into the food they consume.

With Baltimore Beyond Plastic, Wayner and Thompson are tackling plastic pollution in their community through local school visits, educational workshops, rallies, youth summits, and meetings with local legislators to advocate for legislation. Last year they initiated a campaign to ban styrofoam throughout Maryland, and they are now pushing for bans on both styrofoam and plastic bags in Baltimore.