Creating a Plastic-less World with Bye Bye Plastic Bags’ Melati and Isabel Wijsen

From its forested volcanic mountains to its stunning rice paddies, clean breaking beaches, and breathtaking reefs, Bali really should magical. Unfortunately, it is swamped with plastic due to an increase in tourism, poor government policy, and a growing population.

Teen wonders Melati and Isabel Wijsen, however, have taken the matter into their own hands and are fighting to make Bali the paradise we know it is. The sisters founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an organisation dedicated to eliminating the use of plastic bags on the island, at ages when most of us would have been more concerned about playground hierarchy, proving that we can all make a difference. Thanks in part to their efforts – which included lobbying government officials – Bali is going plastic-free this year!

Bye Bye Plastic Bags
Melati (left) and Isabel (right) take to the beaches. Photo Courtesy of Bye Bye Plastic Bags

We were lucky enough to catch up with the pair, who have given TED Talks, are listed in Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Teens of 2018, and were named CNN Young Wonders, as they get ready for the 3rd edition of ‘Bali’s Biggest Clean-Up, a program they run to get rid of the garbage on Bali’s beaches.

Read on to be inspired and learn how you can join the fight!

How did you get your start in tackling Bali’s plastic problem?

Well, when we started 6 years ago at the age of 10 and 12, we didn’t really have a plan. We were more passion-driven than anything, we knew our island was drowning in plastic, and we knew we had to do something.

It was as simple as just starting. We were really lucky to have a great team around us from the very beginning – this helped us spear the message very quickly. Next thing you know, one small idea turned into a whole movement.

What has most surprised you about the problem?

That it is more a part of our everyday lives than we can even begin to imagine, plastic is in everything, and we are consuming it without even knowing. How scary is that?

Read also: Scientists have found microplastics in our poop

Plastic bags have been banned in Bali! How does it feel to know your efforts helped lead to this?

It feels really good!!! A lot of our hard work has paid off, and we know that the ban was thanks to the effort of many. It feels good because you know that as an individual, as a movement, you can really effect change. This has now become more and more our message we want to share with other bright young minds!

In 2014 you set up a pilot village to go plastic free. How did that begin and what effect has it had on the village?

Our pilot village program started with the idea that we could replicate a model of how it could be to be a plastic bag free village. So we focused hard on socialisation with the kids, the women and the men in the village. 800 families.

To get started, we had to do a socialisation period of 3 months every day after school at the bale banjar with the local authorities and explain the intention. We soon after got the support of the village on all levels, and our team would go every weekend to distribute alternative bags to the local warungs.

Today, we have great impact initiatives in the village like MPH which is a grassroots village scale waste management Centre led by the people, and we even have a few shops who are now plastic bag free!

Isabel delivering alternative bags. Photo Courtesy of Bye Bye Plastic Bags

Bye Bye Plastic Bags is international! Are you at all surprised by how well your message has spread?

Yes! It surprised us and to be honest, still does sometimes!! We wouldn’t have thought that our message would be heard around the world. But I guess this also just proves how global the issue of plastic pollution is, but also how many people agreed that Bali should go plastic bag free.

Also! Our global teams! We’re currently in 35 locations with Bye Bye Plastic Bags led by students.

Bali’s Biggest Clean-Up is back for another year! What does its success mean to you?

Bali’s Biggest Clean Up Photo Courtesy of Bye Bye Plastic Bags

Bali’s Biggest Clean Up is one of our teams favourite days! It beats holidays and birthdays even!

The impact of an event like this is so powerful; you see everyone coming together to really form a united front. ONE Island ONE voice. We’re so excited to be bringing it back for the third year in a row!

How can people join you?

For the Clean Up you can keep an eye out on our website for the details of the nearest location to you! Meanwhile, register yourself as a volunteer or as a coordinator.

Image Courtesy of Bye Bye Plastic Bags

What’s the next step for you?

We’re very excited about our next project! It involves everything we love. We want to empower youth through education, giving them all the leadership opportunities we were given so they feel like they can create real change. We can’t really say much leading towards our launch but keep your eyes and ears out!

As for Bye Bye Plastic Bags, well, with Bali introducing the ban on plastic bags our mission is complete! BUT there is always lots to do. We have to ensure that the socialisation continues and the regulations are fully implemented. So we hope to continue with our educational aspects and our events.

What do you want travellers to know about reducing their impact?

Do your research before travelling to a destination! We believe that by respecting local customs and ways of living, you can create a huge impact. But also, ask yourself the question; how can you lead by example? Start making that difference one bag at a time. Bring your own refillable water bottle, say no to that straw! Every action counts.

Read also: Everything you should know about eco-sustainable tourism

Elisabeth Forsman

Our predictably unpredictable adventure nomad, Elisabeth is the yogi who wants it fast, the ultra-runner who prefers taking a hike, and the swimmer with a fear of lap pools. A consummate lover of all things outdoors, she’s on a perpetual quest to get those around her outside and moving.

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