Balinese sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen have together taken on the task to tackle Indonesia’s plastic pollution while awakening the world to the problem of single use plastics.
Indonesia is the second largest plastic polluter in the world after China – its plastic waste accounts for 10% of marine plastic pollution. Due to the massive amounts of trash in the waters, when the wet season arrives and the winds turn, Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, including Bali are hit by the annual “trash season” which washes ashore on its beaches.
For the last four years, the Wijsen sisters have been campaigning to get plastic bags banned from the Indonesian island.
Only 5% of plastic bags get recycled in Bali, but the island produces 680 cubic metres of plastic garbage a day – the equivalent of a 14-storey building.
Local government officials in Bali continue to cite the problem of plastic as a “natural phenomenon”. The task to get officials to take action has not been without its challenges, but is one in which the sisters have been persistent and consistent in their approach.
Melati and Isabel Wijsen initially started a petition to ban plastic bags, managing to get the backing of 100,000 signatories.
But it was a hunger strike staged by the Wijsen sisters, under the supervision of a dietician because of their young age, that managed to get the attention of the governor. Bali’s governor Mangku Pastika recently signed a memorandum of understanding to help the people of Bali say no to plastic bags by January 2018.
In the run up to January 2018, the sisters have been educating Balinese residents about waste management, marine debris, the simple 3r’s, and youth empowerment.
Under their social initiative, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, which they set up in 2013, the sisters have created a 25-paged booklet in Bahasa Indonesian to provide awareness and get the people of Bali to say no to plastic. The booklet features illustrations by a 13-year-old Balinese resident, who is also one of the local team members of Bye Bye Plastic Bags.
The Wijsen sisters are hoping that this booklet and its teachings will become integrated into the education system. Melati and Isabel Wijsen said: “Our next step is to work with the government to get this implemented into all the school systems in Bali, and then hopefully Indonesia.”
Bye Bye Plastic Bags – which now has a volunteer team of 25-30 students from schools around Bali, local and international – also support shops, restaurants and hotels in becoming plastic free. All participa
ting businesses display a “One Island One Voice” sticker at their premises to show their commitment.
Every Saturday Bye Bye Plastic Bags also distribute alternative bags to the local shops and warungs at a local village, Pererenan. The organisation was also behind Bali’s largest ever beach cleanup, which attracted 12,000 volunteers.
The girls have become world renowned as environmental champions, and as young people, are determined to do what they can to inspire change globally.
Melati Wijsen said: “If we could meet with world leaders and speak to them, we would tell them to listen more to the youth, consider us as more than just inspiration. We have bright innovative ideas of how to deal with some of the greatest issues of our time,” says Melati.
“We are the future, but we are here now, and we’re ready. We’ve learned kids can do things. We can make things happen.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, wellbeing, and entertainments. Rosa also works as a psychic, counsellor, intuitive reader and spiritual life coach helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com