How two teenagers helped change the law on plastic pollution in Indonesia
Jan. 23, 2020
Bali has introduced a plastic bag ban following Melati Wijsen's campaign; Indonesia's President has now promised to clean up the country's rivers thanks to the efforts of Gary Bencheghib; An emerging generation of young activists is calling on everyone to take action on climate change.
“Since I started this talk, more than 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic will have entered the ocean.”
That distressing fact was shared by Gary Bencheghib, a young environmental activist and co-founder of Make a Change World , 20 minutes into his speech at the Annual Meeting in Davos.
“There are 500 times more pieces of plastic in our ocean than there are stars in our galaxy," he said. “The truth is that there has never been a more important time to act than now.”
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Bencheghib grew up on the Indonesian island of Bali where he continually encountered plastic pollution in beaches, rivers and the ocean: “During big rains, our beaches are literally covered in this material. It’s completely unbearable to witness and experience.”
Time for action
Bencheghib decided to expose the plastic pollution to the world. He and his brother Sam rowed down Indonesia’s most polluted river , the 300km-long Citarum, on kayaks made from plastic bottles. There was so much plastic clogging the river they could barely navigate it.
“What we witnessed on the river was completely horrendous,” he said, describing the smell as like dead animal flesh.
The teenager's voyage, which Bencheghib he called “a recycled exposé”, attracted the attention of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who promised him that the Citarum would be cleaned.
Single-use plastics have been banned in Bali, thanks in large part to Bencheghib’s fellow activist Melati Wijsen, who, at the age of 12, co-founded the NGO Bye Bye Plastic Bags with her younger sister.
Together the teenagers have campaigned to ban plastic bags, sharing their message around the world. Both Wijsen and Bencheghib have been invited to Davos as teenage change-makers , in order to give more prominence to the younger generation.
“I’m part of a generation that is leading with solutions, whether that is kayaking down the world’s most polluted river, banning the tampon tax or banning plastic bags," said Wijsen.
“You may have heard of some of us, like Greta, like Malala, like Boyan Slat. There are so many more of us; we needed a mass revolution.”
At Davos, Wijsen announced a new venture, Youthtopia, a peer-to-peer platform for change-makers.
The work is just beginning, she said, urging everyone to take urgent action on climate change: “All hands on deck finally made sense to me – I knew we had to have the private, the public, companies, scientists, young people. This was a movement that needed everyone.”
“We need to get out of our comfort zone, we have to act according to the Paris Agreement, without any loopholes for government," she said.
"For the private sector, dig deep into your pockets, into your budgets, so that you can wake up knowing that you did more than the standard operational procedures.”
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