“You are that one person it takes to start the change.”
Melati Wijsen and her sister were only 12 and 10 years old when they decided they wanted to be change-makers now, not wait until they were adults. They found a cause (getting rid of plastic bags in their home, Bali), and through sheer grit and determination, started trying to make a change, with their initiative Bye Bye Plastic Bags. Now 17, Melati shares with us tips she learnt along the way so that your kids can be inspired to be the change and play this forward. You can also hear her talk at this year’s Green Is The New Black – The Conscious Festival, mamas.
Tell us: what inspired you to set up Bye Bye Plastic Bags?
I think it came down to two things that happened at the same time; the first is that my sister and I had a lesson in class about positive world leaders, change makers, like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Lady Diana, and I remember at the age of 10 and 12 we went home that day thinking, “Okay, well, what can we do living on the island of Bali as kids? What can we do now?” We didn’t want to wait until we were older to stand up for what we believe in, so we started brainstorming at home on all the issues Bali was facing and one thing stood out to us the most: garbage.
Growing up on the island surrounded by ocean we see the heavy negative impact plastic has. There’s no escaping it here. The plastic problem is SO in your face, and we thought “Well, who’s going to do something about it?” But that’s just it, you often forget that YOU are that ONE person it takes to start the change. So that’s when my sister and I, at 10 and 12, created Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an NGO driven by youth to get the people on Bali to say no to plastic bags.
Read more: 7 Single-Use Swaps to Reduce Plastic Waste
How did you go about setting up Bye Bye Plastic Bags in practise: spreading the word, funding, finding alternative bags?
When we started we didn’t have a business plan, or strategy or a budget even! But we learnt our first lesson quickly: TEAM. You cannot do it by yourself. So our first steps were building our team, pulling together our closest friends and saying “Hey! This is our idea! Come join!” We would speak at schools, attend festivals, marches, actions of all kinds to get the word out that we had begun our mission. Throughout our journey we met a lot of likeminded people who helped us shape and take BBPB to the next level.
What progress have you seen in terms of plastic bag reduction and people’s behaviours in Bali?
A change in mindset through our education campaigns. The changes that we have seen happening is the crazy amount of growth in awareness with the visitors to the island, but especially the youth on Bali who start to understand that plastic is a real threat to the future of the island. We see a change of mindset and approach towards garbage with the local authorities; they are starting to realize the value in waste. The amazing growth and change that Bye Bye Plastic Bags itself has gone through from a small local initiative to a recognized and well known NGO driven by youth. Also our pilot village programs have now been replicated by the city of Denpasar who aim to become a plastic bag free zone led by the local authorities there!
What advice do you have for kids and families here in Singapore to take this movement forward?
There are many ways for you to be a part of the solution. It all starts with leading by example. Start waste separation in your home. Or begin by saying no to plastic bags the next time you are at the supermarket by bringing your own bag so you can start making a difference.
Read more: Living the Zero Waste Lifestyle in Singapore
What advice do you have for kids to do something significant?
START NOW. Don’t let anybody else tell you that you’re too young or you don’t understand. Find what you’re passionate about, learn your strengths, build a team. You have a voice, it matters, USE IT. Us kids may only be 25% of the world’s population, but we are 100% of the future.
What will you be speaking about at this year’s Green Is The New Black – The Conscious Festival?
I will be speaking about the journey of BBPB and where we are today with saying no to single use plastic bags. Highlighting the potential of the next generation and what we are capable of when we lead the way. Giving perspective to the voice of the youth and hopefully inspiring and empowering by showing examples of what we have done in Bali over the course of five years.
Thanks Melati – we wish you all the best with this much-needed and significant project! Let’s hope it inspires our kids in Singapore and beyond to follow suit! Click here for more on Green is the New Black!