Ten-year-old committed environmentalist wins prize for recycling project

This story began with a simple email from Aria’s father, who had come upon an ongoing call for an innovative pitch competition named (Re)verse; as he explored the concept in detail, Aria and her passion for upscaling came to mind immediately.

The competition focused on Practices and Social Entrepreneurship for Upcycling. The objective is to encourage innovation to turn valuable raw materials that are disposed of by local businesses, non-profits, and institutions as waste, into raw materials for new or expanding social enterprises. This is also a United Nations Sustainable Goal (#12)

Amreen and Mohammed Rajabali are the proud parents of Aria and have been the foundational pillars in her life , embedding environmental, social, and development values.

Aria, who is now ten years old, would find ways to upcycle items found commonly discarded around the house, a concept which is in dire need in every corner of our planet. Her nascent projects, such as recycling fabric scraps, packaging foam as a step stool for her two-year-old sister Zuri, and reincorporating wood from a pergola, created a spark of excitement in Aria to present and pitch the upcycling prototype for the (Re)verse competition.

The event was sponsored by the City of Austin Circular Economy Program and the Austin Young Chamber, and Aria’s activities aligned perfectly with the State of Austin’s  Zero Waste Goal.

Aria is one of four innovation fellow winners selected to represent Born Again Kreations – which aims to create insulated water bottle holders. Materials used include decorator fabric samples and cuts of high-quality fleece from Austin Creative Reuse, and bulletproof vests from Travis County.

Aria’s project secured entry to the ICORPS program at Texas State University, where she will receive a $4,000 dollar stipend to participate in an accelerated course. This opportunity will allow her to engage with three other entrepreneurs who were selected as winners of the (Re)verse competition. Upon completion, she will receive an additional $3,000 if her product qualifies as a STEM product. Her business will be a registered entity with the Texas Secretary of State.

In addition to this competition, Aria is also a finalist who will be presenting at Circular Austin Showcase, where she will have the opportunity to pitch her project to win another $5,000.

The race to net zero through meeting the goal of 1.50C, saw continued global discussions at COP26.  The upcoming event for COP27  is promoting plans to implement sustainable development goals, including at the individual-level for the social and environmental obligation to act.

In Aria’s words, “before you throw something away, always ask yourself, ‘can I reuse this,’ because every little thing that you reuse will help the planet. The time to take action is now. no matter how old or young you are.”

Our planet continues to struggle with increasing demand while supplies are on a continuous path of decline. Upcycling and creating efficient waste management systems present opportunities to preserve our planet’s natural resources.

Aria’s work highlights hope and talent within our youth who are ready to engage and support the United Nations' work for finding sustainable solutions that can be implemented at a grassroots level.

The urgent call for action is real. According to the World Bank Group report, climate change can impact more than 100 million people by 2030, with healthcare impacts due to rising sea levels and temperatures, different precipitation patterns, droughts, along with emissions that will result in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.