THOUGHT LEADERS

MELATI AND ISABEL WIJSEN: INSPIRING YOUTH TO IGNITE CHANGE

Melati and Isabel Wijsen, initiators of Bye Bye Plastic Bag, plan to lead by example.

02.02.2022
BY WILHEMINA BOWEN
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Melati Wijsen and her sister Isabel, who were 12 and 10 years old at the time, started Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013. The Bali-based movement aims to eliminate the use of plastic bags on the island and elsewhere.

"I think when we started, the mission was very clear. We wanted a plastic bag-free Bali, and I think the reason why we are where we are today is thanks to the clarity of that vision," said Melati in an interview.

"Born and raised in Bali, nature is always around us. When we became aware of all the plastic pollution, we couldn't believe this was something that happened to our home. Someone has to do something. So, we took action by starting BBPB (Bye Bye Plastic Bag) without a plan, just because we wanted to protect our home."

Today, BBPB has become a global movement with 57 teams in 30 countries worldwide, led by other young people than the sisters. They set a new goal now, which is to help empower and inspire youth to create the change and implementation that they started in Bali.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Isabel Wijsen (@isabel.wijsen)

Not a mere fad
BBPB is a movement that invites tourists and local people in Bali to clean up plastic waste, but now it has pivoted into several other projects, such as waste management education, plastic usage dangers awareness, and an annual beach cleaning event in Bali that regularly involves 12,000 people pre-pandemic.

"After six years of campaigning, we have seen a lot of changes. The level of consciousness continues to grow to this day. We have spoken to more than 75,000 people around the world and created two educational booklets that are used in elementary schools throughout Indonesia," said Isabel.

It took a lot to convince people that they were serious about their cause, especially the older people. Melati and Isabel eventually went on a hunger strike in 2014 to make their points. Parents, friends, and teachers were all worried and asked them to stop.

"They think this is too extreme. However, my sister and I know that we have to show the 'adults' that we are serious about this change," said Melati.

The strike led to a meeting with the Governor of Bali, I Wayan Koster, on the next day. Their voice, and a lot of other environmental activists in Bali, finally reached the government. On January 1, 2019, Governor Regulation No. 97, which prohibits the use of single-use plastic in retail stores in Bali, was finally enacted.

"When we started, it was difficult to convince people that we were serious. Most people only see us two adorable, inspiring girls in Bali. But in the end, persistence and commitment prove that we are serious," Melati added.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Melati Riyanto Wijsen (@melatiwijsen)

Next step — Youthtopia
The Wijsen sisters' activism now expands to empower more young people to become changemakers by launching an online training academy called Youthopia.

At the Bali-based venture, young people learn the art of online campaigns and how to conduct dialogue with leaders to see the change they want to happen.

"We're leading by example," Melati said. "And I think the rising young people, the momentum of young people is unstoppable and just beginning."