Thank You Thursday: Plastic Bags No More

Plastic bags… a convenient invention without foresight at the time, and now we are facing a huge hurdle not only with our waste matter; but what to do with the millions of plastic bags across the entire planet. This has been particularly a problem on the small island of Bali, where there is about 1.6 million tonnes of waste each year and 303,000 tonnes of that waste is plastic. 33,000 tonnes of this plastic leaks into Bali’s waterways causing pollution and health problems.

On June 23 this year Bali became the first Indonesian province to ban all single-use plastic bags, polystyrene and even straws, in a move that environmentalists are hoping will have a domino effect across all of Indonesia. Most of Bali’s residents are now willing to sort their waste and make a real effort to reduce, reuse or recycle. Much of the credit for this dramatic change has to go to sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen.

When these two young girls were just 10 and 12 years of age they were learning about impactful world leaders and change-makers, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Lady Diana. They started thinking how could they, as ‘just kids’ make a difference? Playing in rice fields, walking along the road or beaches they noticed just how plastic bags had clogged up gutters and rivers. It was soon after that they founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB), an organisation driven by youth to say NO to plastic bags.

In a bid to get their local government’s attention they took up a petition gaining permission to collect over 100,000 signatures behind customs and immigration at Bali Airport. However, Governor Mangku Pastika was unimpressed and ignored a request to meet the two sisters. What were they to do? Visiting Mahatma Ghandi’s house and under strict supervision of a dietitian, the girls went on a hunger strike from sunrise to sunset. It worked!

24 hours later, escorted by police officers, Melati and Isabel found themselves in front of the Governor signing a Memorandum of Understanding to help Balinese people say no to plastic bags by January 2018.

BBPB raises awareness and educates about the harmful impact of plastic on our environment, animals and health while also sharing how to be part of the solution. The girls have had many successes since such as:

  • Bali’s biggest beach clean-up – with 12,000 volunteers of many different nationalities.
  • The Indonesian Government pledging its part by the year 2025 to reduce plastic pollution by 70%.
  • A starter kit and book developed to guide young people through the process of ‘How to Start a Movement’.
  • Mountain Mamas – a social enterprise initiated by BBPB for local women giving them skills to produce alternative bags made from donated recycled material. 50% of profits goes back to the work of BBPB and 50% of the profit goes back to the village to be used for three key elements: waste management, education and health.

It has taken the sisters five years to get to this point but they have proven that ‘YOU are the ONE person who can start to make a change’. Melati and Isabel have been on an incredible journey since starting this movement, taking them around the world, including London and New York where they made an appearance at the United Nations. Their vision has inspired thousands and is really making a difference in our world.

This Thank You Thursday, we say thanks to Melati and Isabel, the Indonesian government for sitting up and listening to their youth and the BBPB teams all across the globe.

See you in the pond,

The Fish Chick.

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