When most kids go to the beach, they’re too focused on making sandcastles and splashing around to notice litter, but for 7-year-old Cash Daniels, noticing a plastic straw several years ago sparked a lifelong passion for saving the planet.
Cash, who is now known as the “conservation kid,” has always loved nature. He grew up fishing along the Chattanooga River, after all! But once he learned that 80 percent of all trash from land and rivers ends up in the ocean, he couldn’t sit back and do nothing.
“Before Cash, we didn’t recycle, didn’t pay attention to our waste, and never considered how much plastic we used and threw away,” said his mom, Erin Daniels. “Our entire lifestyle has changed.”
Their first step toward change included cleanups along the river, something that quickly went from a family affair to a community effort with volunteers and neighbors. In doing so, Cash hoped to not only clean up the Tennessee River, but to also start a movement that would inspire others to do the same where they live.
“I want people to remember how much trash they found; how dirty it is. When you don’t pay attention and don’t realize how much trash there is — you don’t really see it,” Cash said.
But once you’ve learned about it and what it does, you see trash everywhere. You keep seeing it. You keep seeing it because you want it to stop, and you want to do something about it.
Now 12 years old, Cash has made an incredibly positive impact on his hometown. In addition to hosting river cleanups, he’s written a children’s book about river pollution and has raised enough money to place 17 monofilament recycling bins along the Tennessee River.
In the process, he’s helped remove 14,000 pounds of trash and recycled 1.5 tons of aluminum — and that is just the beginning!
A few years ago, Cash connected with a Canadian conservationist, Ella Galaski-Rossen, on Instagram. A friendship slowly began to bloom, and in 2019, the two of them met in person at the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. There, they decided that in order to expand their efforts, they should start a nonprofit… so they did!
“We hope to be a really big nonprofit that eliminates plastic in the U.S. and Canada,” Cash said. “Our goal is to make an impact where we live. We want to inform kids and adults in the landlocked states on how their actions are connected to the water and the ocean.”
Although the two of them live in different countries, they still manage to create educational videos on their YouTube channel for their nonprofit, The Cleanup Kids. Plus, they’re continuing to do everything they can on their own, though they’re never truly alone in their efforts.
“They (my family) encourage me along the way,” Cash said. “My brother helps with my cleanups and crafting for fundraising. My mom helps to organize events, publish my book and do emails, and my dad finds new places to do cleanups and helps with the heavy stuff.”
Although there’s plenty of progress to be made, Cash is well on his way to making a positive impact, not just on the Tennessee River, but on the world. Of course, the world is taking notice!
Cash was selected as one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2021 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. He also earned the title of National Honoree, where he received a $5,000 grant to go to a nonprofit of his choice, and he became the first person to win the Youth Conservationist Award two years in a row from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
“I want to travel the world, teach others, and help them feel connected to the Ocean. Because if you are connected to the Ocean — if you love it and what lives in it — you’ll want to protect it,” he said. “This is my fun, and it becomes more fun with every new discovery. Every little action counts. One person can make a positive change if they just stand up and get involved.”
Keep up the exceptional work, Cash! Share this article with a friend to encourage them to get involved.
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