2019 - Bye Bye Plastic Bags

Bye Bye Plastic Bags

"Welcome to Bali," the Balinese sisters Melati and
Isabel Wijsen say, hands pressed together in the
Balinese greeting gesture. "Do you have any plas-
tic bags to declare1?" The sisters ask visitors this
question when arriving at Bali's International Air-
port. Melati and Isabel dream of a day when plas-
tic bags will be illegal in Bali. "We want people to
arrive on the island and there will be no plastic
bags," Melati says.

In the old days Balinese people only used organic materials leaving no waste behind. But
today the island is covered with rubbish. Much of the rubbish in Bali is not collected, some
of it is burnt and pollutes the air heavily, some is simply dumped in rivers. "In Bali we
produce 680 cubic metres of plastic a day as nearly everything you buy is packed in plastic
bags. That's the size of a fourteen-storey2 building," Isabel says. "Unfortunately less than
five per cent of the plastic bags get recycled."
Worldwide, plastic is a threat to wildlife. Plastic bags cause the death of fish and other
animals. Just recently a whale was found with over 80 plastic bags in its stomach. It died
because the plastic had made it impossible for the whale to hunt and eat. Before it died it
had been in pain for several days.

At the age of 10 and 12, Melati and Isabel had a lesson at Green School in Bali about change
makers like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and asked them-
selves, "What can we do as kids on the island of Bali to make the world a better place?"
They knew rubbish was a big problem in Bali which seemed impossible to solve. And then
they found out that Rwanda, a country in Africa, had banned plastic bags in 2008. "If one
of the poorest countries succeeded in doing that, Bali should start to act as well," Melati
says. So the sisters decided not to wait until they were older.

That is why they founded the campaign Bye Bye Plastic Bags. They collected thousands of
signatures, organized beach clean-ups and school presentations. The girls were even invited
to give a video talk for a famous Internet channel in London and they have inspired
Bye Plastic Bags
campaigns all over the world.


Although well-known by then, it was a challenge for them to get the attention of the Bali-
nese governor, who did not take the matter seriously at first. For one and a half years, Melati
and Isabel tried to meet him – without any success. "We handed in thousands of signatures,
but there was no reaction," Melati says. Then, on a trip to India they gave a talk and visited
the home of Mahatma Gandhi, who had reached his goals through peaceful actions like
marches and hunger strikes in the 1940s. Having learned about the power of hunger strikes,
the girls – still frustrated as there had been no reaction by the governor – decided to start a
hunger strike themselves. It was successful because of a huge reaction on social media and
twenty-four hours later the governor agreed to help. He even sent the police to escort Melati
and Isabel to his office and was proud of them in the end.
Melati and her sister believe that the voice of the youngest generation should receive a
large response. "We are the future but we are here now and we are ready. We´ve learned
kids can do things. We can make things happen."
                                                                                                                  (588 words)
Text adapted from: Jewel Topsfield, Sydney Morning Herald, March 12, 2016; https://www.smh.com.au/world/bali-
Jacopo Prisco, The teenagers getting plastic bags banned in Bali, CNN, August 17, 2017;
1 to declare - (beim Zoll) anmelden
2 fourteen-storey - vierzehnstöckig