Two sisters want to stop the use of plastic bags in Bali and so they started a movement called “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” in 2013. To date, the movement has spread to Australia, New York, Nepal, Myanmar, and China. Read about how they are making it all happen below.
You’ve got to admit: a beach littered with plastic bags is hardly an idyllic vacation spot. And when it’s the Island of Gods you’re talking about, local businesses stand to lose a great deal of money if the pollution gets out of control and starts putting off tourists. But you have nothing to fear: sisters Melati Riyanto Wijsen & Isabel Sari Riyanto Wijsen, 15 and 13 respectively, are taking matters into their hands and making sure plastic bags become a thing of the past in Bali.
Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a campaign started by the girls in 2013 and has taken the founders on an amazing journey – from giving a TED talk in London to speaking at the Conference of Youth in Paris.
What inspired the both of you to start BBPB?
Bye Bye Plastic Bags started 3 years ago when we were 10 and 12 years old. We were inspired by a lesson in class about significant people like Nelson Mandela, Lady Diana, Mahatma Ghandi. We went home that day and thought “What can we do as kids living in Bali, what can we do NOW?” We sat down at home and had a brainstorming session, we were thinking of all the issues our island was/is facing and garbage stood out to us the most – it impacted our everyday lives, plastic was everywhere! So that choice was easy. But what was an achievable goal for us kids? The most logic and realistic step is to say NO the plastic bags and that is how Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born in 2013. Ever since then our mission is to get the people of Bali to say no to plastic bags.
Did the thought that you are just kids and may not be able to effect change ever crossed your minds? If yes, how did you overcome it? If no, why the confidence?
I do not think we ever saw our age as a challenge to do something, to effect change! We didn’t want to wait until we were older. However, at first, for some adults it was difficult to take us seriously and to some extent that put us down, but we proved and earned their attention through our endless commitment and persistence. And that’s when we saw people started to listen, we as the youth really did have a voice.
So, how did you both get everything off the ground?
Our first official public kick-off was at the GIN conference, we were invited to be guest speakers – many schools from around the island were there, this led and helped us form a team!
We created a petition with Avaaz on Day One of this idea, and within the first 24 hours we had a more than 6,000 signatures, other people on Bali and around the world agreed that Bali should be plastic bag free. We had to work with local authorities as well, and we campaigned very hard to meet with them.
Social Media is such an important and awesome tool to use, it’s a big part of our generation’s lifestyle. Everyone is on social media! So we spread our messages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
What was the one single event that made you both go, “WOW. People are really paying attention to what we’re doing!”?
Wow! It is really difficult to nail down a single moment, BBPB has gifted us with many of these moments. 🙂 But one of the events that had us totally mind blown was a local action that happened at the international and domestic airport. We have been working together with the airport for around one and a half years, at the beginning we worked with them to have permission to collect signatures behind departure gates but due to stricter safety regulations we are no longer able to do so.
The airport still supports us and now we are happy to announce that the international and local airports in Bali will be going plastic bag free in the month of August 2016! We are super happy for this because the airport is the first place everyone goes to when they arrive in Bali and if they are confronted about the use of plastic bags, they will be constantly thinking about it throughout their stay.
Another moment where we thought, “Wow!” was at the COY11. Last year in Paris, we were invited by the United Nations to speak at the Conference of Youth (COY 11). We were really excited to do this as we saw that the majority of the people that were there were youth, just like us and that we were all fighting for the same causes. We got to speak in the main stage for one and a half hours and the best part was that our area could hold 1,000 people sitting and the area got so full, people were even standing because they were so interested in what we had to say. This event really made us realise the power us as young people have, as there were prime ministers and heads of businesses talking on other stages but people came to see us and hear what we had to say.
You mentioned that BBPB aims to eliminate plastic bags from Bali by 2018. Is that just limited to the more populated tourist-regions or the whole of Bali? How close/far are you from achieving it?
We are aiming for the entire island of Bali, but this will go in phases
We have worked for 2 years in a pilot village and it is now for 60% plastic bag free
Further we have the support and commitment of the Governor of Bali and the government to work towards a plastic bag free Bali by 2018. This aims for the whole of Bali. A few meetings ago with the government, we were presented a realistic plan on reaching to our plastic bag free Bali goal. In February, 23 cities across Indonesia had to enforce a Paying for Plastic policy, this is the first step to changing the automatic mindset people have on taking plastic bags. The Indonesian people are ready for change, the timing for change has never better than right now. We see it, the governments understand it, and change is happening.
Individually, what is the one most important thing you’ve learnt about yourself through working on BBPB?
Melati – I learnt that I’m very committed and serious about BBPB, it has become more than a passion.
Isabel – I learnt the power I have as a youth, and that I am stronger, louder when I am with a group.
You mentioned at the Beyond The Haze event in Singapore in May 2016 that BBPB is giving out stickers to businesses that have done away with the use of plastic bags. Can you list 3 – 5 businesses in Bali that are popular with tourists and bear the BBPB sticker?
Avocado Cafe (health cafe)
Bali Buddha (Health and food Store)
BaliOn Office (Villa Management)
Find out more about Bye Bye Plastic Bags here.