Bye, Bye Plastic Bags: When Children are Agents of Change

Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a social initiative driven by local and international children between 11 and 17 years old living in Bali. The initiative’s mission is to ban the use, sale, and production of plastic bags in the island of Bali by 2018. It was founded in 2013 by Melati and Isabel Wijsen, two sisters who were 10 and 12 years old when they started the “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” movement. 

Melati and Isabel were concerned about the amount of plastic bags Bali was facing with Bali’s most iconic beaches littered in heaps of plastic rubbish. Together with their best friends, Melati and Isabel started by giving talks at schools across Bali and held beach clean-up days, which were welcomed by the Bali inhabitants. However, they were missing national and international attention, so they decided to start an online petition to urge the government to create and enforce a law that forbids the use of plastic bags in Bali. The initiative collected more than 70,000 signatures and the petition contributed to grow interest about the necessity to take action towards a more sustainable future for Bali.

 Towards the Human City: Bye Bye Plastic Bags Melati & Isabel
Isabel and Melati Wijsen, founders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Bali. | Towards the Human City

Taking a step further, in October 2013, the children presented their project at the Global Initiatives Network conference (GIN) and continued to raise national and international awareness about plastic bags production and its environmental impact in Bali. At the end of 2014, Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Bali’s Governor Mr. Made Mangku Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) through which the latter pledged to take measures to make the people of Bali say “NO” to plastic bags by 2018. Over time, the initiative has gained the support of government bodies and international organizations, such as UNORCID (the United Nations Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia).

 Towards the Human City: Bye Bye Plastic Bags Melati & Isabel
Melati and Isabel distribute reusable bags for their Bye Bye Plastic Bags organization. | Towards the Human City

Although they encountered challenges along their way, the remarkable journey of the two sisters and their friends is evidence that children-led initiatives can be effective at building awareness around sustainable challenges. Through their own experience, the two sisters want to inspire other children to take action and make them believe that they can be agents of change toward a more sustainable world. As Melati said in a TED talk the girls gave in London in September 2015 "along the way, we have learned kids can do things. We can make things happen.”

 Towards the Human City: Bye Bye Plastic Bags Cleanup
Bye Bye Plastic Bags volunteers host a cleanup. | Towards the Human City

Bye Bye Plastic Bags has a volunteer team of 25-30 students from schools around Bali and other schools all over the world. It has become a well-known international movement of youth empowerment and the story of the sisters has inspired Bye Bye Plastic Bag campaigns all over the world. Their dream is that citizens continue to replicate the initiative by organizing themselves to raise awareness and pressure the government towards a stronger commitment regarding environmental issues in the cities.

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