Bottle for Botol
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and highlight the importance of educating our world about the harmful effects of plastic!
You’ve dedicated years to building Bottle for Botol from the ground up and into the amazing organisation, it is today. Can you please share with us what Bottle for Botol is all 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. For every stainless-steel water bottle sold by our Australian partner schools, we donate the same re-usable bottles and a water station to an Indonesian partner school. Every bottle sold puts students through an educational program about the impacts of plastic on the environment.
You must often be confronted by heartbreaking situations where wildlife has been heavily impacted by plastic pollution. Can you share a story with us?
While I was living in Bali, the amount of plastic pollution on streets, the beach and in the ocean was incredibly confronting. I remember snorkelling on Nusa Lembongan with manta rays and watching as plastic bags and nappies floated in the ocean surrounding their feeding areas. I recently found out from a friend, Elitza Germanov, at Marine Megafauna Foundation that their research suggests manta rays are consuming up to 90 pieces of plastic per hour. This is a frighteningly high quantity of plastic that is impacting all our marine life.
Plastic pollution is a problem facing societies around the world – why does Bottle for Botol primarily focus on developing partnerships between schools in Australia and Indonesia?
Bottle for Botol started while I was living in West Bali and working with a local teacher at a local high school. Together, Pak Yasa and I developed the education program that would become the core of what we teach our students today. I was also in close contact with a teacher in Western Australia who mentioned that the activities we were conducting in Indonesia would be fascinating for students in Australia. Together with co-founder Chris Kemp, we established our first school partnership between Billanook College, his old high-school in Victoria, and Pak Yasa’s school in Indonesia, SMP1 Mendoyo. We have had many enquiries from people across the world wishing to take part in our program but at this stage, we lack the capacity to expand our operations outside these two countries…plus, a lot of important work can be achieved in these countries alone.
What have been some positive impacts in the community that you have seen since launching the Bottle for Botol program?
At SMP1 Mendoyo, our students have taken action above and beyond the Bottle for Botol program to reduce plastic waste at their school and their surrounding community. Their canteen has stopped selling food and drinks in plastic containers and have banned the use of straws at school. They conduct regular beach clean-ups and have spread the message outside of their community, introducing the program into new schools in the surrounding area.
What inspired you to volunteer your time to educate young people about plastic?
That’s a tough question! I think I just fell into it. I have been passionate about marine conservation for a very long time now and after living in Bali, I realised that simple actions could have a really big impact on the problem. I met an inspiring teacher, found friends willing to help with the project and together it just started to happen!
What are some innovative ways you have engaged students about the issue of plastic pollution?
Several of our students in Indonesia simply didn’t know that plastic decomposed any differently to a banana leaf and many people across the world don’t realise the extent of the plastic pollution problem. Creating hands-on, participatory activities has been a great way to engage students and we always take a positive approach to the issue and help people develop solutions that will work in their own school community.
How have the students responded after learning about the harmful effects of plastic?
Many of our students have become incredibly proactive after learning about the harmful effects of plastic. They have lobbied their canteens and their schools to reduce the amount of plastic they use, and one of our students even won a prize in an Indonesia-wide competition for his contributions to reducing plastic waste!
In Australia, our students have held fundraising events and shown videos to the wider school community to raise awareness and encourage others to also reduce their plastic waste.
Why do you choose to focus on educating children, rather than the wider community?
After consulting with a number of mentors and organisations, we have learnt that it can be more effective to teach students about a problem at a younger age and instil good habits from the get-go.
At this stage, we don’t have the capacity to extend our program out to the wider community but we do some simple things to ensure that it’s not just the students that learn about and engage in the problem. For example, we start by educating the teachers and wider school community including canteen staff such that they can model behaviours for the children. We also send a letter home to all the parents of the students who receive a bottle explaining the program and encouraging them to ensure that their child takes their bottle every day. Because using a water bottle is cheaper than buying water at school, parents are often very happy to assist!
In the future, we would like to extend our impact and reach out to the wider community through workshops and educational days.
Do Bottle for Botol collaborate with other organisations? If so, who and why do you think this is important?
We collaborate with other organisations whenever the opportunity arises and we actively seek out these opportunities. We recently held an Earth Day event in Bali with the Coral Triangle Centre, the Marine Megafauna Foundation and Bali Hai Resort. It was a fun day and each organisation gave presentations and ran activities with students, focusing on marine conservation as a whole. These collaborations enrich the experience of our student program participants, providing a different perspective to the problem and a more holistic outlook for solutions. We believe collaboration on the issue of plastic waste is key to clean oceans in the future.
We’re currently celebrating Volunteer Month – what has been the most rewarding aspect of volunteering?
I have made some incredible friends though this experience and sometimes I find it hard to believe how many amazing people are willing to give up their time for this cause. I will never forget a day in 2014 when I attended a teacher workshop in Indonesia organised by our partner organisation – it was incredible to see at least twenty dedicated teachers working on our curriculum and learning how to teach it so that they could spread the word within their school.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your volunteering experience?
I think every day is a new challenge at Bottle for Botol. We’re a young and small organisation and we’re learning something new every day, be it trying to understand the legalities of our recently acquired DGR status; taking product photos for our latest stock; developing software to assist in communication between Australian and Indonesian schools; or learning to create marketing materials in two different languages.
Another challenge facing our organisation is that our only office is in Sanur, Bali. All our volunteers work remotely online in Australia so we don’t get to have the same comradery and “water cooler conversations” that we would have if we also had a single office in Australia.
If people want to volunteer with Bottle for Botol, how can they do this?
We’re always looking for volunteers with a lot of initiative. Being a small organisation, there are tonnes of things that need doing but often we don’t have the expertise to guide someone along the way. If you have skills in graphic design, sales, accounting, retail stand design, corporate sponsorship, fundraising or education we can certainly find a job for you to do! Just contact myself on Christine@bottleforbotol.org and I’ll send you a volunteer information pack.