Interview with Bottle for Botol

28 February 2017
Thank you to everyone that wrote to me with suggestions for the future Changemakers interview series. For those that are new here, Changemakers is where I get to interview Australian legends, community groups, not for profits, companies and individuals that are working on great initiatives to reduce plastic and waste. I believe in sharing the work of others, because you never know how someone else's story will inspire. And I believe it uplifting to read about other peoples hard work; it's a nice reminder that we are not islands when it comes to the war on waste.

Today I'm happy to introduce you to Bottle for Botol, an Australian enterprise that works reduce plastic water bottle in Indonesia. Botol is the Bahasa Indonesian word for Bottle. A fun little fact, I learnt Indonesian at primary and high school. While I'm not as fluent as I used to be, I can still read it.

Bali is a popular tourist destination for many Australian's, and anyone who has been there will have seen the devastating effects plastic has had on the Indonesian island. Indonesia are one of our closest neighbours, and I find it heart-warming that a bunch of Aussies decided to set up a social enterprise, to help lend a hand and educate on the effects on plastic pollution. I hope you like their story as much as I do.

Students in West Bali finished their 8-lesson Environmental Education Program and receive their new stainless steel water bottles!
What is Bottle for Botol about? 
Bottle for Botol is a social enterprise that works with Australian and Indonesian schools to help prevent plastic waste entering our water streams, rivers and oceans. Our program aims to educate students on the importance of protecting our environment by leading a generational change away from single-use plastics. Australian schools are partnered with Indonesian schools, creating a cross-cultural exchange. For every stainless-steel water bottle sold, we donate the same re-usable bottle to students in Indonesia, and a water dispenser for their school. The funds from bottle sales also go toward an education program about the impacts of plastic on the environment.

What prompted you to start the program?
Bottle for Botol was founded in 2013 by a group of Australian volunteers. While on assignment in West Bali, they saw firsthand how dire the plastic waste problem was, particularly on the beaches and in the ocean around Bali, and were compelled to do something about it. Working with Pak Yasa, an Indonesian teacher and passionate environmentalist, an education program for students was developed and piloted at Pak Yasa’s school. The pilot was a huge success in educating students and building their capacity to reduce plastic waste. The program has grown since then to include 14 schools in Indonesia, and 10 schools in Australia.

One of the unique aspects of our model is rather than teach students ourselves, we train and support teachers to deliver the education program directly.

Pak Yasa Tenaya.
What has been the challenges faced so far?
One of the unique aspects of our model is rather than teach students ourselves, we train and support teachers to deliver the education program directly. Initially, we invited teachers from different schools, who were passionate and engaged in environmental education, to a group workshop outlining the program, and providing detail on issues around plastic waste. However, we found that teachers at the school who did not attend the workshop, did not understand our program. In 2016 we changed the process, and now we visit each school separately and run a workshop for the whole school community. This way everyone understands the purpose of the program and why it is important to reduce plastic waste. We have found this approach is very effective because schools often take their own initiatives to reduce plastic waste after our first visit, even before they begin delivering the lessons to students.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags has been widely popular in Bali, but their success has not come without hard work. Have you found it difficult to change people's mindset on plastic bottles in Bali? 
It has been wonderful to see what Bye Bye Plastic Bags’ small team of enthusiastic and passionate students can achieve, but changing attitudes and behaviors is not without its challenges. We believe our bottles, and people’s connection to them, are the key to changing mindsets. One of the questions we are often asked is “won’t the students lose their bottles?” We are very proud that, of the 960 students and teachers who have been part of our program at Pak Yasa’s school over three years, only one student has lost their bottle. The students and teachers feel proud of the bottles because they participated in the design competition and their bottles feature designs by their peers. This connects them to their bottle in a meaningful way and the everyday practice of bringing their bottle to school is an important reminder to avoid single-use plastics.

What are some of Bottle for Botol's achievements so far?
We currently work with 14 schools in Indonesia and 10 in Australia. To date, over 3000 students and teachers have participated in our education program in Indonesia alone. We have delivered 18 water refill stations to schools, so that teachers and students can refill their bottles with drinking water at school. We have run seven workshops for teachers and school staff. Nine students have won our annual bottle design competition and had their designs printed on bottles. 

Junior high school students refill their water bottles at school!
Tell us Bottle for Botol's plans for the future?
Conquer the world! There is so much we’d love to be able to do, but this year we’re focussing on making sure our program is the best it can be. This involves:
  • Updating our Indonesian curriculum to ensure it’s easy for teachers to use in the classroom, students are having fun while learning and we can better measure their progress. 
  • Building on our Indonesian and Australian school partnerships to create stronger connections between the schools. 
  • Raising awareness and increasing impact in the community by strengthening our partnerships with like-minded organisations - it takes a village! 

How can more Australian's get involved?

A student reading his work out loud from his BfB Environmental Education book!
If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be?
You can have a tangible impact on the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans, use a refillable drink bottle and purchase one for a student in Indonesia. Allow your children, and all children in the future, to have safe and healthy oceans.

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