Teenage Sisters Get Global Respect For Campaign To Rid Bali Of Plastic Bags : Goats and Soda Plastic is choking our oceans. Inspired by Gandhi's activism, two young women on the island of Bali are on a mission to do something about it.

How Teenage Sisters Pushed Bali To Say 'Bye-Bye' To Plastic Bags

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've talked a lot on this program about plastic in the oceans. China is the biggest culprit when it comes to marine plastic, but Indonesia is second. Two young women on Bali are on a mission to change that beginning with plastic bags. Michael Sullivan has this report.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: How young are they? Young enough that one of them couldn't make our weekday interview.

MELATI WIJSEN: She's at school.

SULLIVAN: That's 18-year-old Melati Wijsen talking about her Bye Bye Plastic Bags co-founder and 16-year-old sister, Isabel.

WIJSEN: She's just halfway through grade eleven, and she's putting her focuses more into graduating high school.

SULLIVAN: The two sisters started Bye Bye Plastic Bags when they were just 12 and 10 years old after a lesson at school about influential world leaders and change makers, including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

WIJSEN: My sister and I went home that day thinking, well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali? See, we didn't want to wait until we were older to start making a difference. It wasn't even a question, really. It was more like, what can we do as kids right now?

SULLIVAN: The answer was right in front of them - literally, on the beach in front of their home.

WIJSEN: You know, it got to the point where at weekends, when we would go to our childhood beach - if we would go swimming, there was a plastic bag that would wrap around your arm. Or running through the rice field, and you're seeing farmers plant on top of plastic. And you say, just enough is enough.

SULLIVAN: A quick online search, she says, revealed that 40 countries in the world had already banned or put a tax on plastic bags.

WIJSEN: We thought, well, if they can do it, come on Bali, come on Indonesia. We can also do it. And so without a business plan, a strategy or a budget, like my mother will tell you (laughter), we went forward with the pure passion and intention to make our island home plastic bag-free.

SULLIVAN: They got some friends together, got online to start a petition and got over 6,000 signatures in less than a day, she says. They never looked back, spreading awareness through school and community workshops and beach cleanup campaigns, drawing international attention and that of local politicians, too.

WIJSEN: I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike, which is one of our idol's tools of - how, you know, Mahatma Gandhi, he also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals of getting attention. So that was a huge inspiration for us. And we - within 24 hours, we had a phone call, and then the next day, we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor.

SULLIVAN: He signed a memorandum of understanding with the sisters to work together toward eliminating plastic and later announced the goal of making Bali plastic bag-free by 2018. That didn't happen. But Wijsen says dealing with politicians in general has taught her some things.

WIJSEN: I always say it feels like dancing like the politician - with the politician. It's, like, three steps forward, two steps back and again and again. And it's almost like the cha-cha. But I learned a lot of different things.

SULLIVAN: The sisters have given a TED Talk, been invited to the U.N. in New York and spoke at last year's IMF World Bank meeting in Bali. And last month, the new governor announced a new law banning single-use plastic on the island, thanks in part to the sister's efforts and those of other like-minded NGOs. Melati Wijsen was thrilled by the news but says there's still lots to be done, spreading the no plastic gospel not just in Bali or Indonesia but across the globe.

WIJSEN: So we're actually now in 28 locations around the world, and it's all led by young people - kids in middle school, high school or university.

SULLIVAN: And that, she says, might be the best part about the journey so far.

WIJSEN: Because this is, you know, where we - we literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. For us, everything is happening in our lifetime, right? So we have to be the ones to start working towards the future and the world that we want to be part of.

SULLIVAN: For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Denpasar, Bali.

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