Indonesia-based eco-activist to expand anti-plastic crusade to PH

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 10 2022 12:12 AM

MANILA — Environmental activist Gary Bencheghib, the 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for emergent leadership, plans to bring his work fighting plastic pollution in Indonesia overseas, including the Philippines.


The 27-year-old French founder of non-governmental organization Sungai Watch on Wednesday detailed the work of his team in Bali during an online lecture hosted by the Ramon Magsaysay Transformative Leadership Institute.  

Bencheghib showed in a pre-recorded video the barriers installed by his group in waterways that catch nearly 3,000 kilos of plastic daily. 

There are 150 such barriers in Bali and 20 in Java.

Sungai Watch also built 6 materials recycling facilities to collect, clean, and upcycle the trash into other items.

Aside from organizing cleanups that have recovered over 200,000 kilos of plastic in 2021, Bencheghib said Sungai Watch has been helping the Indonesian government in its push to ban single-use plastics by 2030.

"I’m here for the long haul, starting in Bali but really ready to expand our project to some of Indonesia’s dirtiest rivers, looking really at some of the rivers in the Philippines very soon, to really try to put an end to this material but also making sure it does not end up in our ocean or our rivers,” he said.

The Philippines was identified by a 2021 study as the contributor of over a third of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.

The Pasig River was pinpointed as the top plastic pollution source, with 7 out of the 10 top rivers emitting such pollution in the Philippines.

Bencheghib added at a forum following his lecture that his group is focused on gathering data on plastics use to determine how much as corporations, governments, or individual users contribute to waste.
It was important, he said, to expand efforts like these.

“Every single minute, one garbage truck full of plastic pollution enters our ocean and that is set to increase. We need to change the entire system and it needs to be global systematic change. That’s why projects like ours—many other projects need to scale up around the region, throughout Asia,” Bencheghib said.

The eco-activist said the next 3 years will be difficult for disaster relief effort.

However, he is optimistic these efforts will bear fruit in the coming years.

“The climate change battle is that one battle I think we can still win within our lifetime, within the next 20, 30 years because that [plastic] is something we all use. We’re still connected to it,” he said.

“If we start saying no to it individually, that’s where we can really change things around.”

Bencheghib began his environmental advocacy at 14 years old when he and his 2 siblings Kelly and Sam began a weekly beach clean-up with friends.

He and his siblings later formed Sungai Watch in 2020.

A filmmaker by training, Bencheghib produced “crazy” videos emphasizing and at times dramatizing the impact of plastic pollution.

In 2017, he documented his expedition using a kayak made of plastic bottles to the Citarum River in West Java, which led to the Indonesian government undertaking a 7-year rehabilitation program for the river, dubbed the world’s most polluted.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation recognized his efforts “combining nature, adventure, video, and technology as weapons for social advocacy”.

Bencheghib will be in Manila on November 30 for the formal presentation of this year’s Magsaysay Awardees.

“We need to use this opportunity to keep fighting this fight because Indonesia needs it, the Philippines needs it, many other countries need proper solutions,” he said.

Other 2022 recipients of the Magsaysay Award—Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize—are psychiatrist and Khmer Rouge survivor Sotheara Chhim, Japanese ophthalmologist Tadashi Hattori, and Filipino doctor and children’s rights advocate Bernadette Madrid.

Chhim will deliver the next lecture in the series on November 16, focusing on mental health lessons from Cambodia.

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