ecoTalk: Melati Wijsen & Gary Bencheghib

The thing about Waste….

MW: … that annoys me is it’s stinky, it doesn’t look nice, it’s bad for the environment and for our own health—and it’s gonna be around forever if we don’t do something NOW.

GB: … Is that all plastics ever created are still out there somewhere. It just doesn’t go away. I have traveled the world and always so shocked to see plastic wash up on the remotest beaches. It’s getting to the point that year by year, when I revisit isolated places- more and more is there. We cannot look away from it and time to act has never been more important than right now!

Tell us the worst waste experience you’ve gone through yourself…

MW: Growing up in Bali there are so many moments I can choose from – from spending weekends on the beach with friends, tanning next to a pile of trash or swimming in the ocean and feeling the plastic slithers around your feet or get caught in your arms. My worst waste experience is stepping in/on a diaper on the beach, and setting foot on illegal dumpsites because it breaks my heart to see plastic in places where it most definitely should not be.

GB: A year ago during our expedition on the Citarum river—known as one of the world’s most polluted rivers—we witnessed mountains of trash dumped on both sides of the riverbanks, open fires almost every 300 meters. At one point, we got stuck in a plastic berg. With every stroke of our paddles, plastic bags would get entangled. You would see toxic fume; the water literally was a black mayonnaise of toxicity. But the worst experience was when I saw a turtle suffocating underneath the trash trying to make its way up. Being so overwhelmed by the conditions of the river, I felt absolutely helpless. I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve come in the destruction of our planet.

What’s Your Action?

MW: For the last five years, we have led a youth driven organization called Bye Bye Plastic Bags and One Island One Voice. We aim to get the people of Bali to say no to single use plastic bags and we do this through various ways: Education, Pilot Village, Dealing with Government, and Going Global.

Our latest action was the One Island One Voice “Komitmen”, an initiative that was launched to eliminate unnecessary plastics from our daily lives and business operations. Through the Komitmen initiative, we invite organizations, companies and government offices in Bali to eliminate the use of the five most pervasive plastics in our environment—plastic straws, water bottles, retail bags, plastic cups, and cup lids—and to promote waste separation at the source in order to promote better recycling and waste management.

GB: I founded Make A Change World to show that anyone can make a difference. We are a digital media outlet and environmental organization who go on expeditions around the world to promote solutions and innovations to make the world a more sustainable place. Change starts with us and we each have the ability from our fingertips to have our voices heard.

What’s the biggest challenge in implementing your solution?

MW: The barriers put in place by the government. There is willingness and an intention to move forward but the implementation part is still, unfortunately, lacking. We need to see real steps and measurements being taken from the top down, from our local, regional, and national government. 

GB: By 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in our ocean. Every day I wake up with that timeline in my head—it dictates what I do for the day and how I plan my projects. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the scale of the problem and can be challenging to stay focused on precise projects.

What are the first things you’ll advise to people to be more responsible with waste?

MW: Educate yourself about where YOUR own trash is going. Do you know where your “away” is? Make sure it isn’t the ocean, the beach, the rivers or any other ecosystem that it shouldn’t be in. AND start asking yourself the question, “ Do I really need this piece of plastic? Do I really need this straw, this plastic bag, this plastic bottle…”

GB: Look at the trash you produce yourself for a week. Analyze it and see what you can do to minimize it. You’ll see that most of the single-use plastic will probably not be recyclable and can be avoided. Start by banning one piece of trash in your daily life and then go to another and another.

Starting from this August 17th, We should all be independent of…

MW: single use plastic bags, and then start to phase out other single use plastics. I believe change can start with us.

GB: One single-use plastic in our lives. It’s the perfect opportunity to show our care and love to this beautiful and amazing country that is Indonesia, the biggest island-nation in the world. It is truly our responsibilities to protect it for the generations to come.

What’s Next for you?

MW: Many exciting things are always happening for the movement and for me as an individual as well. BBPB is continuing with their mission, additional to that we aim to spread our educational booklets for elementary students all around Indonesia. As well as expanding globally (we are now in 21 locations around the world) our movement has become a platform for youth who wants to have their voices heard.

One Island One Voice has a GOAL of 1000 Komitmens by the end of this year. I’ll be filming four exciting documentaries in this next year!

GB: Currently planning my next project: another circumnavigation, but this time by foot. Planning to run the entire coast of Bali to study river by river, stream by stream, to track down where the biggest sources of pollution come from on the island. Stay tuned through IG at @makeachangeworld or #KelilingBALI, a project which I collaborated with Melati before. 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *