A movement that started in Indonesia by the sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen has generated awareness about the problem and has already resulted in governmental changes 

In the whole world, 14 million tons of plastic are submerged in the bottom of the oceans. The estimate of the Australian scientific agency CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere indicates some of the consequences of the indiscriminate use of items, such as plastic bags, cartons and plastic straws. In Brazil, the pandemic and a large use of delivery and disposable materials hastened the consumption of these materials and further strengthened the concern with the disposal in the country. In accordance with the Plastic Atlas, published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, in Germany, Brazil is the fourth largest producer of plastic trash in the world, with a 11 million tons. To review this scenario, initiatives and efforts made on the other side of the planet can serve as incentive and inspiration.

In Bali, the government has prohibited, since 2018, the use of plastic bags, polystyrene and plastic straws. The initiative of positive impact started years before, by determination of two young sisters, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, who at the time were 12 and 10 years old. “We had a lesson on impacting world leaders and agents of change, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Lady Diana and others. We went home that day thinking what we could do living on the island of Bali, even though we were still children. We didn’t want to wait until we were older to defend what we believe in, so we started the project,” says Melati. 

The restlessness of the young spawned the “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” that met other young students with actions of awareness about the problem of plastic trash. “As we played in the rice paddies or walked on the beach, we saw plastic bags clogging the gutters and piling up in rivers and on the sides of roads. We saw this as a real problem that we could face,” recalls the young woman. 

To make a difference on the island, the movement had, since the beginning, the strength of the collective interest. Actions were taken like the petition, lectures in schools, cleaning of beaches and awareness of consumers and local businesses. The action also reached the local government for a change on a large scale. 

Young leadership

For Melati, the action is always important, regardless of how old you are. “You often forget that you are the only person required to initiate a change,” she says. The young activist, who will be at the Sicredi’s 2021 Youth Summit also highlights the importance of leadership for attitudes that start small, in communities, and that can generate major transformation. “We know that a person cannot change the world, so leading by example, you can inspire people around you. And someone somewhere will follow you. Then, a few hundred more until a great impulse builds up and the change happens everywhere,” she concludes.