For many of us, the island of Bali will conjure up images of palm-shaded resorts, pristine white beaches, and crystal clear Indonesian waters, but the reality for those fortunate enough to live in such a place is that the ‘paradise,’ is often cluttered with litter—but two teenagers from the island have been working for years on a solution.
In 2013, Melati and Isabel Wijsen launched their flagship non-profit, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, aiming to secure a ban on single-use plastic bags across the Indonesian island. They had to be undaunted by the statistics: 5% of bags are recycled in Bali, while the entire island chain ranks as the world’s second largest producer of ocean-born plastic pollution.
Inspired in school by world leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi effecting positive change, the 15- and 17-year-old have made progress towards the goal of eliminating the environmentally destructive bags.
In July 2015, the Bali province signed a letter committing work towards a ban by the end of 2018, signed by Bali governor Mangku Pastika.
Two years ago, after collecting 100,000 signatures, Bali Airport officially said ‘Bon Voyage’ to plastic bags, and last year One Island, One Voice a collective of NGO’s and local businesses organized the largest beach cleanup in the island’s history – with 12,000 volunteers from all over the world removing 40 tons of garbage in 55 separate locations around the island.
Since beginning their crusade against plastic bags in 2013, their efforts have culminated in some remarkable achievements, including a TED talk discussing the problem of plastic garbage and their grassroots approach to solving it, as well as a guest speaking invitation at the UN World Oceans Conference in New York.
As the 2018 deadline loomed ever closer. Melati and Isabel attended multiple meetings with their government throughout 2017 in response to the original promise made almost 3 years before, with debate and uncertainty about whether Bali province has the authority to institute a general ban. The girls argued it is quite clearly within the island’s authority as an autonomous region.
The Bali sisters know that economic incentives will make the transition to a full ban far easier, and they’ve suggested a “pay for plastic policy,” taxing every plastic bag made and sold, pointing out that 40 countries have already instituted levies, bans, and taxes on plastic bags, and that their own island loses tourist revenue of about $53 million dollars due to plastic pollution every year.
Any hesitancy by government officials toward the commitment they made in 2015 hasn’t slowed down the Wijsen sisters, who continue their wide-ranging body of work in the fight against plastic pollution in their home.
(LEARN More in their Ted Talk, below)
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