Two sisters, Meloti and Isabel Wijsen, 12 and 10, noticed plastic bags clogging the beaches, streams, streets and highways around their tiny island of Bali.
What they witnessed appalled them. Ironically, Bali tourist organizations sang praises about Bali’s palm trees, white sandy beaches, blue waters, stunning mountains and plentiful wildlife.
In reality, hotels, businesses and villages added to the plastic bag trash at stunning speeds. Under the water, scuba divers could not pick up enough plastic bags fast enough to keep up with the ones being discarded by thousands of people every day of the year. What bags didn’t get tossed, ended up in incinerators that created toxic smoke and ash that blanketed the island.
The two sisters created an army of determined school kids who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. They knocked on doors all over the island. They created petitions for people to sign at the airport when tourists landed on the island. They formed beach clean-ups, created T-shirts, a website and organized legions of kids to follow them.
At first, they met severe resistance from the Bali government and many businesses. Undaunted, they traveled to India to the home of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who ejected the British from his country. The late Princess Lady Diana also inspired them concerning her work to ban land-mines worldwide.
Meloti said, “We don’t have to wait until we are older to make a difference.”
They gave talks at schools across Bali and held beach cleanup days.
“Being kids, we thought if we get one million signatures, they cannot ignore us, they will have no choice,” Melati said. “Who would have guessed one million signatures is, like, a thousand times a thousand?”
At that point, they discovered that 16 million visitors landed at the Bali airport annually. They walked into the airport manager’s office with a bid to set up a booth.
He said, “I can’t believe I’m letting you do this, but I am.”
They collected a million signatures within weeks. After months of trying, they walked into the president of Bali’s office with the petition. They brought facts about plastic waste: a study by the University of Georgia of 192 countries found that Indonesia tossed the second largest amount of plastic trash behind China, at 3.2 million tons of plastic waste in 2010, about 10 percent of the world total. The amount humans toss plastic trash into the oceans annually: 8,000,000 (million) tons. China, India and America discard the most plastics of all countries. All totaled, researches estimate that the Earth’s oceans house 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic and counting.
After their appearance on Ted Talks, the sisters inspired legions of teens worldwide to start their own organizations to make positive change in the world.
Bali leaders voted to make Bali plastic bag free by 2018.
Isabel said, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young or you won’t understand. We’re not telling you it going to be easy. We’re telling you that it’s worth it.”
Contact them: www.byebyeplasticbags.org
The two sisters spoke on Ted Talks: www.tedtalks.com
Read more posts by Frosty Wooldridge here. Frosty is a blogger for JenningsWire Online Magazine.
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