Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a global youth-powered movement to say NO to plastic bags. Sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen’s advocacy and petitioning for six years was crucial in Bali’s government decision to place a ban on all single-use plastics in 2018. Now Bye Bye Plastic Bags has a global presence with youth teams in over 50 countries advocating against single-use plastic.
Responses provided by Raina Hwang, Global Team Leader at Bye Bye Plastic Bags.
How was your organization, Bye Bye Plastic Bags started?
Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB) is a product of two young Indonesian-Dutch sisters from Bali’s passion and motivation. When Melati and Isabel Wijsen were just 12 and 10 years old, the two sisters walked out of a school lesson about the lives of legends such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi feeling inspired and empowered.
After some research, they found that Indonesia was the world’s second-largest source of marine plastic pollution, directly after China, and that dozens of laws and jurisdictions around the world had already banned single-use plastic.
This propelled them to start their own campaign and create Bye Bye Plastic Bags. They created petitions, led beach cleanups (including the largest nationwide cleanup to date), and even at one point threatened a hunger strike to get the Bali governor’s attention — all at the very young ages of 12 and 10 years old.
Since then, the movement gained recognition internationally, and the pair became known as the teenage sisters pushing their country to say “Bye Bye” to plastic bags.
What is Bye Bye Plastic Bags’s mission?
Bye Bye Plastic Bags is an environmental organization that envisions a world free of plastic bags through education, political meetings, campaigns, and youth empowerment. Since being founded over 8 years ago in Bali, Indonesia, we have become a huge youth-led global movement, spanning over 50 countries around the world in every continent.
What impacts has Bye Bye Plastic Bag made?
After 6 years of campaigning and meetings with policymakers and the Bali governor, single-use plastic bags have since been banned in Bali. The promise was signed by the governor in 2018, and the ban on all single-use plastic was finally instated on June 23 of 2019 — a huge victory for environmentalists and activists as well as our two inspiring young sisters.
And, after being asked by so many teens around the world, “How can we do what you do?”, Melati and Isabel made Bye Bye Plastic Bags a global and international movement. We now have close to 60 BBPB team leaders hailing from all over the world — Algeria to Greece, Egypt, London, Shanghai, India, Japan, Myanmar, the list goes on — advocating for our cause.
What are current projects in motion?
All of our teams run amazing projects throughout the year, but a few notable ones from recent months include our global celebration of World Clean Up Day, our Model United Nations Conference, and the premiere of our founder’s film, Bigger Than Us, at the Cannes Film Festival, wherein she documents traveling the world to meet and introduce a group of amazing young activists.
What have been the biggest challenges of running this initiative?
As a youth-empowered organization, our biggest challenges involve stakeholders such as private sector companies, policymakers, and local governments. Keeping the youth and the rest of society accountable in advocating against single-use plastic is important, but a lot of the responsibility is on these groups to move faster into sustainable alternatives and address these issues.
Working with over 50 teams across various countries is rewarding but also challenging in that many governments struggle or are not strong enough to set clear policies and regulations in place. All sorts of challenges — political, social, and economic — come into play and differ from country to country.
What is your best advice to other students who want to launch an initiative like this?
As our founder likes to say, “kids are 50% of the population but we are 100% of the future”. Don’t underestimate yourself! Speak on the things you’re passionate about and we’ll be here to support you every step of the way.
Learn more about Bye Bye Plastic Bags. Read more Rustic Spirit stories.