These 2 teenagers have helped change the law on plastic pollution in Indonesia

plastic pollution

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Katharine Rooney, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Bali has introduced a plastic bag ban after Melati Wijsen’s campaign.
  • Indonesia’s President has now promised to clean up the country’s rivers.
  • The young generation is finding solutions to the world’s problems.

“Since I started this talk, more than 200,000 metric tons of plastic will have entered the ocean.”

That distressing fact was shared by Gary Bencheghib, young environmental activist and co-founder of Make a Change World, who had been speaking at Davos for around 20 minutes.

“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.”

Bencheghib grew up on the Indonesian island of Bali where he continually encountered plastic pollution in beaches, rivers, and in the ocean.

“During big rains, our beaches are literally covered in this material. It’s completely unbearable to witness and experience.”

The river was totally blocked with trash at times
Image: Make a Change World

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 Citarum, on kayaks made from plastic bottles. There was so much plastic clogging the river that they could barely navigate it.

How plastics enter the ocean
Image: Our World in Data

“What we witnessed on the river was completely horrendous,” he said, describing the smell as like dead animal flesh.

Bencheghib’s voyage, which he called “a recycled exposé”, attracted the attention of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who promised him that the Citarum would be cleaned up.

‘Mass revolution’

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 they 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.

Melati Wijsen, Founder, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, Indonesia speaking in the UpLink: Linking Up the Next Generation of Change-Makers session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21 January. Congress Centre - Situation Room. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Valeriano Di Domenico\r\r

“I’m part of a generation that is leading with solutions,” said Wijsen, “whether that is kayaking down the world’s most polluted river, banning the tampon tax or banning plastic bags. 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 really only 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.”

Plastic

What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

“We need to get out of our comfort zone, we have to act according to the Paris Agreement, without any loopholes for government. And 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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