Melati (left) and Isabel (right) Wijsen with Adrian Grenier. All photos courtesy of BBPB ©.
Sisters Melati and Isabel Wisen talk about their environmental organization called BBPB, which stands for Bye Bye Plastic Bags. It was founded in Bali in 2013 when Melati was 12 years old and Isabel was 10 years old.
Interview by Mission.
We’re two sisters from Indonesia who get to call the beautiful island of Bali home. We both love watching sunsets, the waves crash, the palm trees sway, and appreciate the beauty of nature; this love and gratitude is largely what got us started with our movement of Bye Bye Plastic Bags at the age of 10 and 12, over 6 years ago”“I have been thinking sustainably since I was a child,” says Costa. The design-director-turned-entrepreneur recently debuted his own, sustainable, Amazon-sourced, ‘slow luxury’ brand, appropriately named Costa Brazil amid much anticipation and excitement. Face and body oils, and scented vegan candles form the core of the line, but Costa is particular about one thing, we need to get closer to nature in our endeavor to consume and not away from it.
What you do, in your own terms?
Bye Bye Plastic Bags is an NGO we founded in 2013 driven by youth to get the people on the island of Bali to say no to single use plastic bags. We were very inspired by a lesson we had about significant world leaders, change makers. We went home that day thinking, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali? What can we do now? We didn’t want to wait until we were older to start making a difference, we knew we had to start now towards a future we are proud of. Plastic pollution was an issue that connected to us the most, it was something that was so in our faces. At one point we just said, enough is enough.
How has your life influenced your activism?
Both of us grew up on the island of Bali in a house in the middle of the rice fields and very close to the ocean! We had the village temple in our garden and the village we grew up in was a beautiful space to be able to grow up, full of imagination and nature as our playground! At a young age this already created a strong connection to the environment. We felt that our life was so intricately intertwined to what was happening with mother earth, so when we saw that plastic was suffocating our homeland and its waterways we said enough. Because we grew up so close to nature I think it has taught us to stand up for it, no matter what. And because we are really third culture kids with a mum from the Netherlands and a dad from Indonesia, our upbringing was always full of new and exciting cultures of all sorts, different lifestyles, foods, opinions, and ways of bringing change – this definitely taught us to always think bigger. Always keep an open mind, and that’s what I hope we do even through our activism.
How daunting was it to start your organization from such a young age?
It wasn’t really that daunting at all. It was exciting. Because we were so young, we knew the sky and the stars were the limit. Anything was possible if you worked hard enough. So we were ready and we jumped straight into it without even a business plan, strategy or budget. It was also great to have each other as sisters, and our team who brought everything and all our ideas to a whole new level.
BBPB worked with One Island One Voice for Bali’s biggest ocean clean up, 20,000 people came out to join Melati and Isabel. It resulted in 65 tons of waste collected.
What are some major strategies you have implemented in the past few years that have proven successful in bringing environmental awareness and causing change?
Being creative is something that attracts people. Being different. Within the team of BBPB we have lots of bright young creative minds who have a huge passion to create positive impact, this is something people can see. When other people can see passion it is something that attracts them, passion is something that changes people.
What are sustainable alternatives to plastic bags?
There are many alternatives to plastic bags – reusable “life-time” bags is how we like to say it. These are the cotton totes that lots of people carry around. Net bags, plant based bags, carton boxes, get creative! Even solutions like Mountain Mamas bags made from pre loved materials!
Currently watching/reading/listening to:
Too many Netflix series, reading Becoming by Michelle Obama and not listening to enough music!
When you’re not working to save the environment, we can find you:
Out at a cute cafe on a sister date, at the beach at sunset with a full on picnic and loud music, or chilling at home organizing my room, closet, or my photos.
What is a simple thing people can do in their lives to make a big difference in saving the environment?
Believe in yourself, and do research! Simple and accessible solutions are all around you. Look at what makes sense for you in the area you live in. Change does not need to be difficult, an easy thing to start with is committing to cut single use plastic items like the bag, bottle, and straw.
Can you talk about the importance of being able to bring about social impact regardless of the field you are working in?
We’re living in a time where we seriously need to contemplate all of our actions, collectively but also individually. Every action you do, every decision you make, counts. It doesn’t really matter what field you work in anymore, it matters what impact you bring and whether it’s enough to lead us to a future we want to be a part of.
How has the depiction of environmental issues changed in the past decade?
Even in our very young years before starting BBPB at 10 and 12 years old, we could see the change in our environment. We remember clean beaches and seas, but we remember them being rare. And we remember people not thinking enough beyond the short term of plastic consumption. Now, we can’t find a single spot with no plastic, no beaches, no waves clean. With this tragedy of plastic pollution everywhere came an unsettling wake up call globally. Within the last few years especially, people have put attention to their own impact and contribution to the consumption of plastic. A growing trend of the zero waste lifestyle, minimalism etc. Governments are also recognising the role they play in reducing or banning the use of the material…so from not realizing or not knowing, we have seen momentum build from very little to one of the hottest issues spoken about, I mean with “Single Use” being the word of the year of 2018!!!
Isabel Wijsen with Jane Goodall.
Do you think awareness of environmental issues has increased over the years? Why?
Yes. The level of awareness has increased massively. This is due to the efforts of many globally who advocate for change in creative ways which attract masses! There are more campaigns, movements, action driven talks and workshops everywhere. It’s inspiring to see and be surrounded by. However, when we speak about education, there is always more room. There is always more to share and to learn – this is where I strongly believe we need to demand a change within the educational and schooling system.
What does the word “sustainable” mean to you?
Sustainable means balance. Living in harmony with the environment around you, the people around you and the spirit within. This is true sustainability, where we have mastered the ability to give as much as we take, and keep the balance steady within our world and ecosystems.
What message do you have for people who want to become activists?
Go for it. Speak from the heart. And learn both sides of the story. We always say, find that one passion – that one thing that gets you so excited. Learn everything you can about it, gather a team, keep it fun, and don’t give up.
Who is an eco warrior in your life (a person who inspires you, who you look up to)?
There are many warriors throughout history that inspire us, but there are even more today. Young ones especially. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Felix Finkbeiner, Alexandria Ocasio – many strong and bright minded warriors who think bigger and who with every action determine that we work to a better and more sustainable world.
How are you an Eco Warrior?
We do our best to protect what we love and empower others to do the same. We advocate against single use plastic, educate students, teachers, corporates globally on impact, and lead by example.
My mission is… to create a world where young people feel empowered to take a stand for something bigger, for something meaningful, and something that creates real change.