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Bye Bye Plastic Bags

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

Did you know that NSW is the only state in Australia without a plastic bag ban? And did you also know that Australians use around 4 billion plastic bags per year, which equates to 160 plastic bags per person, per year! And worldwide, we use about 500 billion plastic bags per year. If you joined all of these bags end to end, they would circle around the Earth 4, 200 times!

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra from Pexels

I don’t know about everyone else, but it makes me so angry that we’re all still using these plastic bags, when there’s so many other, better alternatives.

However, convincing people to not use plastic bags is a hard task.

Trying to make a change in society by removing an item people use everyday can seem almost impossible, but, despite this, there are two young girls who’ve started a campaign to do so.

Isabel and Melati Wijsen

In 2013, two sisters Melati (12 at the time) and Isabel (10 at the time) Wijsen founded the Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB) organisation, which has now grown to be a world wide NGO (non-government organisation). They began this organisation in Bali (where they live), and it has since spread all around the globe, from Australia to Vietnam to London to Myanmar.

One day at school the girls had a lesson on significant people like Nelson Mandela and Lady Diana. They returned home inspired and brimming with the desire to make a difference and so they thought to themselves “what can we do as children living in Bali, NOW to make a difference?” They looked towards the problems in their own island home and landed on the massive amounts of plastic pollution littering Bali.

“It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,” said Melati.

And so, Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

They started with an online petition, which got more than 6000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Melati and Isabel then obtained permission to collect signatures behind customs and immigrations at Bali’s airport, so eventually they got over 100,000 signatures.

The girls organised the biggest beach cleanup that Bali’s ever seen, attracting more than 12,000 volunteers and continued raising awareness online.

Melati and Isabel requested a hearing with Bali’s governor (who was Mangku Pastika, at that time), however, for a year and a half, he refused to meet with them. The girls became frustrated and so they decided to start a hunger strike, advertising their plan on social media. The local media heard about it, and within 24 hours, the girls had received an invitation from Pastika to come see him.

During their meeting, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding, meaning that they would work toward eliminating plastic in Bali and then they later pledged to eradicate all plastic bags in Bali by 2018. However, this promise wasn’t kept, but it still provided a way for the sisters to spread their influence and keep up the pressure on not using plastics across the country. Due to the efforts from the sisters (and others trying to make a change), in December 2018, the new governor of Bali banned single use plastic bags.

However, the girls didn’t stop there, continuing to grow their organisation. Bye Bye Plastic Bags currently have teams in 43 different locations world wide, all led by youth, who aim to educate people on the harmful effects of plastic, as well as pressure their community to stop using plastic bags. The teams have currently spoken at 529 different events around the world, donated 2950 educational booklets to schools and have spoken to over 45,000 students.

And the girls have a message for all young people.

“Find that one thing that you are passionate about, and go for it. Focus on a realistic target and have fun with it, don't let anyone tell you you're too young or you don't understand. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it! And remember... us kids may only be 25% of the world’s population, but we are 100% of the future. GO FOR IT!”

Melati and Isabel are two incredible young women. They’ve built their own global organisation from nothing but their desire to make a difference. If two young girls can do this, imagine what the world can do together! We all need to play our part and cooperate with each other so we can make the world a better place.


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