Melati and Isabel Wijsen began campaigning to reduce plastic waste in Bali seven years ago. Now 19 and 17, they say the pandemic shows that stark measures to protect the planet are possible.
SEMINYAK, Indonesia — It was trash season on Bali, the time of year when monsoon storms wash up tons of plastic debris onto the island’s beaches. It was also the time for two teenage sisters, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, to organize their annual island cleanup.
Standing on the back of a flatbed truck, megaphones in hand, they kicked off a day of trash collecting at 115 sites around the island. Thousands of people came out to help.
“Not only the beaches, we clean up the rivers, we clean up the streets,” Melati Wijsen called out on that February day to an early-morning crowd of hundreds of volunteers, many wearing shirts with the logos of local restaurants and hotels. “This movement is for everyone in Bali.”
Melati was 12 and Isabel was 10 when they began a drive to ban plastic bags, at one point threatening a hunger strike to get the Bali governor’s attention. Now, seven years later, they have become local heroes and won international acclaim for their campaign, which resulted in Bali banning plastic bags and other such items that are intended for a single use.