These Young Women Stopped Plastic Pollution on Bali for Good

Bali. Island of gods.
A green paradise.
Or … a paradise lost.
Bali: island of garbage?

That’s how they start their TED talk. The young women onstage are confident, clear, passionate. They’re also not yet 18.

Let’s rewind to the year 2012. The island nation of Bali was drowning in trash. And two girls named Melati and Isabel were learning about Gandhi in school. And they were not going to wait one minute more to “be the change they wished to see” in the world. At the time, Melati was 12, and Isabel, 10.

“We are taught to be leaders of today.” Isabel declares in that memorable TED talk. So back on that day, when they learned about “significant people” like Mahatma Gandhi, they decided a better future needed them.

“Why wait until we are grown up to be significant?” Isabel asked. “We want to be significant now.”

“Bali generates 680 cubic meters of plastic garbage per day,” Isabel says. “That is the equivalent of a 14-story building.”

Many only dream of visiting Bali, lying on the beach, surfing world-renowned breakers and swimming in crystal clear water. However, now visitors are reporting that the water isn’t so clear and the beaches have a trash problem.

In 2012, surfing great Kelly Slater tweeted:

When asked, the Bali governor, Made Mangku Pastika, shrugged off the problem, calling it “a natural phenomenon” while trash piles grew higher as the number of resorts continued to grow. Trash was flowing into rivers and out into the ocean. Space on the island was at a premium, so other trash was burned, sending toxins into the air.

They made a plan. They got all their friends together and formed a group: Bye Bye Plastic Bags. They created a petition. They convinced a skeptical airport manager at Ngurah Rai International Airport to let them in. They asked the U.N. Secretary General for help. They stopped at nothing.

But still… they weren’t making progress fast enough to stop the ever-ballooning plastic problem. Without a million signatures, they couldn’t get a meeting with the governor. They were stalled out. But they were nowhere near ready to quit.

So they stopped. Took stock. Checked their history books. And made a bold new strategy.

They decided on a hunger strike. And took the social media universes by storm.

Within 24 hours, they were escorted to the Governor’s office. Melati and Isabel made their case. In that one meeting, they changed his mind so completely that he reversed his course. He recently signed a document promising to ban plastic bags by 2018—and they’re now “high five” buddies.

Melati and Isabel have won a major victory—but instead of stopping, they got fired up to go even bigger. The sisters are now traveling the globe, giving talks and inspiring kids and grownups alike. Their message is threefold: first: we can stop plastic pollution at the source. Second: we’re more powerful when we work together. And third: kids can do anything they set their minds to. They have spoken to more than 5,000 students—and they’re just getting warmed up.

And back home? Person by person, they’re painstakingly gathering the 1 million signatures. Because they’re not going to settle for a high-five from the governor. They’re going to keep pushing until his promise to ban the bags is Bali’s reality.

We’ll leave you with this wisdom straight from Isabel and Melati: “Kids might only be 25% of the world’s population, but we are 100% of the future.”

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