Act local, think global: combatting plastic consumption with Melati Wijsen

In conversation with Melati Wijsen, a 20 year old Indonesian/Dutch climate activist and change maker. Indonesia has seen plastic take over islands like Bali, which led Melati to start Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a non-profit organization powered by the youth to say no to plastic. They have been campaigning for more sustainable alternatives to plastic bags and most importantly working towards a shift in mindset.

We had the chance to talk with Melati about what she’s accomplished.

“It wasn’t a single moment, it was something that we couldn’t escape, we saw plastic every single day”

– Melati Wijsen

What inspired you to campaign against plastic?

I guess there wasn’t really a moment, it was more a combination of multiple moments. This feeling of not being able to escape, actually. That’s something that we experienced growing up around the island of Bali, plastic pollution was everywhere. It was an in-your-face-problem, you couldn’t look away and not see plastic. My sister Isabel and I were 10 and 12 years old, and we simply saw what was happening to our home, and said: “enough. What are we going to do about it?”

It wasn’t a single moment, it was something that we couldn’t escape, we saw plastic every single day.

Plastic is a global issue, but why is it such a big issue in Bali?

I think about it a lot, you know because Bali is an island that, 20, years ago, wasn’t using plastic to the extent that we are today. We were still using the traditional practices of banana leaves, woven baskets, and life without plastic existed. And now, it’s the complete opposite. I think the reason why it is such a big problem in Bali but also a global problem is because plastic is cheap and easy, and we’re comfortable using it. So that’s the challenge that we’re up against, breaking that mindset and challenging people to go back to that lifestyle where once upon a time, life without single use plastic existed.

What would you love people to start doing to change the world?

Each and every one of us has a role to play, whether we are young changemakers at the front lines, CEOs, general managers or politicians and we don’t have the luxury of time. Making those changes, being brave and being bold enough to be ambitious and to implement that change is what we need to see happening on an everyday basis, and that can start with something as simple as saying “no” to single use plastic bags or writing to your local authorities and demanding this change. Oh, and if you can, invest in green energy, invest in solutions and your community!

How do you see overconsumption and what role does it play?

In my very short life I feel myself constantly surrounded and sometimes following this notion of more, more, more, and it’s a hard pull to get out of it, because everybody in society and everybody around you values the wrong things in the sense that they value materialistic things.

It’s not only more and more and more, it’s this lifestyle where we’re looking externally for things like gratitude or validation and we’re not looking inwards and we don’t connect with ourselves, nor can we connect with a larger purpose and that’s where we lose hope. It’s where we lose motivation, it’s where we lose passion to stand up for the things that really matter.

“Everybody in society and everybody around you values the wrong things in the sense that they value materialistic things.”

How would you define conscious consumption?

Conscious consumption has become its own buzzword recently, but I think what it implies is one part of it on the consumer side where we have the power to become more aware, ask the right questions.

You know, hold our corporations accountable for the products that are ending up on the shelves and what we choose to consume. But also it’s shown the opening of a new work, where corporations are starting to understand that there’s an entire market, and a customer base where people actually want to know the end to end of the products that they’re producing. Where is it coming from? And where will it end up? Those are the two most important questions when it comes to conscious consumption.

What is the role of transparency in a relationship between people and brands?

The market is there, people want it, and people are ready for change. One of the biggest excuses I still hear at the front lines as a young changemaker when I enter meeting rooms or high-level sessions is always like the people aren’t ready. And it just blows my mind, because, you know, I’m out there on the streets and out there at community led workshops and people are more than ready for change. We’re waiting for it. And then we’re also leading it.

What does it truly mean for a brand to be transparent?

Brands and governments make bold statements about change on a big stage. But transparency includes how you’re making those changes. It includes the difficulties. Too often we celebrate only the good and there’s too few of that. Imagine if companies were transparent from the beginning. How much more powerful and accelerated could we make change?

What is the one thing you’d want people to take away?

I truly believe that young people can accelerate change. And right now we don’t have the luxury of time. We should see how we can empower young people more. As a young person at the front line there’s frustration because things are changing too slowly. There’s opportunity for good things we can implement today. We have to accelerate change. We have to start today.

“When we think about opportunity, we think it’s too far away in the future. But the opportunity is right now it’s today. It starts with what we can do today.”

– Melati Wijsen