Lefteris Arapakis is one of the seven “Young Champions of the Earth” awarded annually by the United Nations for innovative environmental actions.
The 26-year-old Greek, the only European to be awarded, comes from a family of fishermen. For five generations his family has been active in the rich waters of Southern Greece, fishing for cod and red mullet.
However, in recent years overfishing and pollution, especially from plastics, have affected Greek fisheries, resulting in a 34% reduction in catches over the last 50 years.
“I got more and more worried about the scarcity of fish and the increase of plastic,” Arapakis said.
“I was deeply concerned that my father, and now my brothers, could not make a living out of this job, which is what they learned to do and what they love to do.”
Arapakis founded the start-up Enaleia, through which the team trains, empowers and incentivises the local fishing community to collect plastic from the sea, allowing both fish stocks and the ecosystem to recover.
Enaleia is also prototyping recycling the plastic into fashion merchandise like socks and swimsuits.
“Discarded single-use plastics are notoriously ubiquitous and have adverse and far-reaching environmental and socio-economic impacts, including on human health,” said Gaetano Leone, an expert in plastic pollution with the UNEP.
“The inspiring work that Lefteris Arapakis is doing with Enaleia demonstrates that individual and local initiatives driven by passion and shared priorities are crucial in complementing action taken at the regional level.”
To tackle the pollution problem in the Mediterranean Sea, Arapakis and his team at Enaleia launched Mediterranean Cleanup. They now work with 700 people on 145 boats from Greece and Italy and give a monetary reward for the plastic they return to shore. This removes around 12 tonnes of plastic from the sea each month.
Young Champions of the Earth
The Young Champions of the Earth prize is the United Nations Environment Programme's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges.
The winners are given funding and mentorship to support their environmental initiative.
This year's award recipients:
- Lefteris Arapakis from Greece
- Niria Alicia Garcia from the USA
- Xiaoyuan Ren from China
- Vidyut Mohan from India
- Nzambi Matee from Kenya
- Max Hidalgo Quinto from Peru
- Fatemah Alzelzela from Kuwait