Melati and Isabel Wijsen

Teen Sisters Trying to Ban Plastic Bags in Indonesia by 2021

Those plastic bags that come with your carryout order and always make you feel so guilty for handling? Sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen decided to take them on at the tender ages of 10 and 12 years old. In 2013, the residents of Bali started their own nongovernmental organization (NGO), Bye Bye Plastic Bags, to raise awareness about the harmful effects of plastic.

The girls’ basic mission was to get the people of Bali to simply start saying no to plastic bags. They started with beach cleanups and graduated to petitions and government help, and their company has now grown to an organization with a 25-person staff and board of directors, with teams in 15 different countries working to make the world a place with less plastic using similar tactics and campaigns.

But the most inspiring part of their work is that it’s achieved real results: They successfully lobbied the Bali airport to ban plastic bags in August 2016, and by January of this year, the entire island of Bali was declared plastic bag free. The country of Indonesia, one of the most populous in the world, is planning to ban all plastic bags by 2021, and Melati and Isabel are directly to thank.

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

“Many things. I think we are most proud of creating these movements where people and especially youth feel like they can have their voices heard.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“It’s not always easy, and to recharge we go crazy and dance in remote beaches.”

In today’s Instagram world, how do you stay original?

“By staying true to our authentic voice, sticking to what we stand for and every now and then simply going offline.”

What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

“Don’t be afraid to be the person that starts the change. Always be kind, humble, but stick true to your gut.”

Snack food you can’t live without?

“Cucumber slices.”

Desert island question: If you could bring only three things, what would they be?

“A journal, a camera and music.”

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