Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! Interview with Melati and Isabel Wijsen

By Victoria Feng, Editor-in-Chief


Melati and Isabel Wijsen are the co-founders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an organization the sisters founded to advocate against the usage of plastic bags and promote reusable items instead.  Since founding BBPB 5 years ago, they have worked with other youth to further their cause.  Melati and Isabel have been recognized by a variety of international media outlets, recently as Time’s Teens of the Year.

Amazing Kids (AK): What​ ​inspired​ ​you​ ​to​ ​start​ ​BBPB?

Melati and Isabel Wijsen (M&IW): We had a lesson in class about impactful world leaders and change-makers, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Lady Diana, and others. We were 10 and 12 at the time. We went home that day thinking about what we can do living on the island of Bali as kids, that will make a difference? What can we do right now? We didn’t want to wait until we were older to stand up for what we believe in, so we didn’t. We started to brainstorm all the issues Bali was facing and we chose garbage because that is what most impacted our daily lives. As we would play in the rice fields or walk on the beach we saw plastic bags clogging the gutters and piling up in the rivers, by the side of the road and in the rivers. We saw this as a realistic problem we could tackle.

Growing up on the island surrounded by ocean we see the negative impact plastic has. There’s no escaping it here. The plastic problem is SO in your face, and we thought “who’s going to do something about it?” But that’s just it, you often forget that YOU are that ONE person it takes to start the change.

Also, we learned that so many other countries around the world had already placed a ban or tax on plastic bags so we thought – Bali can to!

We didn’t start with any clear plan. We didn’t know how we were going to ban the bags but we just knew that we wanted to and had the passion to keep going and try to figure it out along the way. And that’s what we have done for nearly 5 years – we just keep going and never give up.

AK: What​ was the most challenging part of your project?

M&IW: One of the biggest challenges is learning to work with government. It’s been a challenge to understand the complexities within government systems. We don’t want to be dragged into political issues, but it’s part of the process. We have had to learn to be patient and things take time. We call it dancing with the politicians. Sometimes it feels like one step forward and

then 2 steps back. It takes time and work to create relationships that will result in long term commitment from all levels of society: team, local authorities, national govt, partners etc.  Also keeping our team engaged and motivated has been a challenge. Trying to ban plastic bags is a big job and being teenagers and students still at school – we have a lot of things going on. Bali is also a transit environment so people are coming and going all the time. Having said that, it is great to work in a group that is continuously getting fresh and new input, ideas, to keep our campaign going too.

AK: Why do you choose to campaign against plastic bags?

M&IW: Plastic bags were something we saw given away everyday and they are not necessary. We always bring a reusable bag with us so why can’t others too. Plastic bags is something that has already been banned in other countries around the world so we knew it was possible. Plastic bags are also something that the consumer has control over saying NO to. They can refuse a bag. It seemed like a good place to start.

AK: What do you regard as your biggest accomplishment?

M&IW: There are many things we are proud of, as a team we have been through a really wild ride of different experiences. But I think one of our highlights is being able to inspire other youths around the world. Being a voice and a message: proof that kids CAN do things. Sharing that yeah, it’s tough sometimes and it’s a lot of hard work…but it’s worth it. Bye Bye Plastic Bags has really embodied the message of Youth Empowerment, and we love the idea that we have the ability to inspire and awaken the change maker within some of the brightest young minds out there and set them on a journey of their own.

AK: When you’re not campaigning, what other activities do you enjoy doing?

M&IW: Isabel is a passionate dancer and enjoys cosmetology and cook for her family. Melati likes to write and read as much as possible.

AK: If you could change any single thing in the world, what would you change?

M&IW: Definitely both in one voice! Education.

AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

M&IW: Let never anybody tell you that you are too young or do not understand. If you feel passionate about that one thing. Go for it.

AK: What are your goals for the future?

M&IW: Isabel wants to finish high school first and Melati is working already on their next project next to create a headquarters for young change makers.