Eco-Hero Award winners 2021

Instead of dropping plastic straws into your frosty beverage, perhaps one day you’ll sip your soda through a palm leaf. A teenager, eager to reduce ocean trash and greenhouse gasses, is working on a prototype for environmentally preferable drinking straws. With his palm-leaf straws, Ganesh Kumar is among an array of passionate young people working to solve tough environmental problems. Action For Nature recognizes the accomplishments of these impressive youth through the International Young Eco-Hero Awards.

Eco-Hero Awards

Action For Nature is a nonprofit international organization in San Francisco that promotes respect for nature and showcases environmental activism and the achievements of young people. The International Young Eco-Hero Awards are issued to young people ages 8 to 16. Their achievements and areas of focus are varied. They include leadership, activism, and innovations. Some young people support wildlife protection and other environmental initiatives with funds from piggy banks and birthday gifts.

We hope the accomplishments of these outstanding young people will inspire many others to preserve and protect the Earth” —Action For Nature

In 2021, as in past years, Young Eco-Hero Award winners are amazing. While we highlight just a few below, each winner’s projects and perspectives are well worth public attention.


Aarushi Wadhwa, age 16, California

Aarush Wadhwa

Project: Aqua-Pods, described as “sponges” formed with organic materials. Aqua Pods, placed at plant’s roots, provide stored water

Aarushi says: “Through understanding the distinction between invention and innovation, I learned that innovating solutions can be just as effective as inventing them. After all, knowledge is hidden in every corner of the world – whether it be the seventh-grade science textbook from which I learned about diffusion and osmosis or in my garden where I observed my parents using tea leaves and coffee grounds as fertilizer – and innovation is a culmination of various learning and experiences. It is up to you to uncover the knowledge through challenging the status quo, asking questions, learning from observations, and eventually applying your knowledge to real-world issues and turning your passion into action.”

Ganesh Kumar, age 15, California

Ganesh Kumar

Project: biodegradable palm leaf straws. They’re formed with leaf, parchment paper, and an edible adhesive, such as tapioca starch or pine sap.

Ganesh Kumar explains his idea for palm leaf straws was sparked at a restaurant in India, where food was served on a banana leaf. Palm leaves offer a suitable stiffness and are an easily available sustainable resource.

Ganesh says: “I think every young person contributing a little in their local communities and neighborhoods will make a huge difference globally. Young people can come up with local solutions for plastic pollution, greenhouse gases that can create a cascading effect to stop global warming, and climate change. I think every small idea is worth pursuing and every small contribution
to help solve the present situation of climate change will help us live a safer life.”

Nileena Jonesh, age 8, United Arab Emirates

Nileena Mariam Jonesh

Project: designed a prototype for energy-efficient streetlights. The design turns off lights automatically during the day when they are not needed.

Varsha Varghese, Nileena’s mother, says Nileena’s other environmental interests include promoting recycling and reducing plastic pollution. “Dance is her passion, and she has presented dance forms raising awareness on recycling and the importance to preserve mother nature.”

Romario Valentine, age 9, South Africa

Romario Valantine

Projects: tree planting, ocean clean-ups, restoration projects, protection for endangered birds, eco-art, ambassador for Ocean Sole, which recycles discarded flip-flops into colorful products.

Romario says: “You are never too young to help nature … I would like to encourage children to plant trees, do not litter, recycle, reuse … Let us work together to save our beautiful planet.”

Romario’s mother, Delsha Moodley, says, “We are honoured to have a visionary son like Romario. We believe it is important for children to have a great supportive network. We will continue to support him and are grateful to everyone who has supported his environmental journey to date. He is a benevolent and humble child who is passionate about helping people and protecting the environment … He sponsors funds for trees to organizations for tree planting, including physically planting some trees himself. At the moment he is on a drive to preserve a tree called Pepper Bark (Warburgia salutaris), which is almost extinct in its natural habitat in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.”

Other Winners

Action For Nature’s website features information about all the Eco-Hero Award winners, including:

  • Tanya Das of New Jersey, who works to raise awareness among young people about marine debris. She speaks at assemblies and workshops, and she recruits student ambassadors with similar interests in other parts of the world.
  • John Abad of Peru, who organizes beach clean-ups and participates in scientific projects analyzing debris.
  • Kyle Tianshi of California, who invented a portable microscopic particle detector that detects microplastics in water. He and his sister founded a nonprofit that encourages student environmental research and raises awareness of the global water crisis.

Read about all of the inspiring 2021 Eco-Hero Award winners.

Applications for 2022

If you or an eco-hero you know is interested in applying for the Eco-Hero Awards, you can learn about the application requirements at Action For Nature. Applications for the 2022 Eco-Hero Awards will open in November 2021.

By Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.