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Bottling the future

Every year almost 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our waterways, damaging our oceans, our marine life and us.

Photo of Christine Parfitt co-founder of Bottle for Botol in a field of vegetation throwing plastic cups into the air whilst smiling.
Bottle for Botol co-founder Christine Parfitt in Indonesia. Credit: Bottle for Botol.

In 2013, Christine Parfitt saw first-hand how plastic waste affected the beaches and ocean around Bali, when she and Chris Kemp were volunteering with turtle conservation. Christine met Pak Yasa, a local high school teacher who is extremely passionate about environmental education.

Together, Christine, Chris and Pak Yasa developed the concept of Bottle for Botol (BfB). BfB works with Australian and Indonesian schools to help prevent plastic waste and inspire change. The program trains Indonesian teachers to deliver a course to their students.

"We work intensively with the schools to really engage the students and teachers – it's not just a quick presentation but eight lessons where we explore the impact of plastic," said Christine.

"I think real understanding of the issue is one of the best outcomes of the program. Students start to think about how they can reduce plastic use, and we've seen some student groups lobby their canteen, for example, to reduce plastic use."

The education is paired with a practical method to reduce the school's plastic waste.

Photo of two Indonesian children crouched amongst a field of vegetation holding water bottles.
Two Indonesian children who finished the eight lesson education program received their water bottle as a reward. Credit: Bottle for Botol

"In many Indonesian schools, the only way to get safe drinking water is with single-use plastic cups. These cups contribute significantly to the plastic waste problem," explains Christine.

"To address this, BfB links Australian and Indonesian schools. The Australian schools sell stainless-steel water bottles and we use the funds to donate bottles and a water station to Indonesian schools."

The program is now established in 10 Indonesian schools and is successfully reducing their plastic waste. One school went from using 960 plastic cups each week to zero following the BfB program.

Christine, who holds a first class honours in Marine Science and a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact, was selected to participate in the 2019 Australia–ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program. Launched in 2016, the three month program brings together 15 young professionals from throughout the region to learn new skills and expand their networks.

Photo of four students queuing to fill up their water bottles.
Students at BfB's pilot school in West Bali. The new system gives students access to plastic free drinking water. Credit: Bottle for Botol

"I'm super excited," said Christine. "The Emerging Leaders Program looks to be exactly that – we will be meeting other people who are setting up social enterprises, visiting companies and learning about how the businesses work and grow."

The program starts with an online course and introduction, and this year's participants will travel to Southeast Asian centres, including Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Singapore.

Christine said that she applied for the program in the hope of building networks to expand the impact and reach of BfB. "I'm really just hoping to talk to people," she said.

"We have the opportunity to reach more schools both in Indonesia and other island countries, and a wider network will help us do that."

"A friend of mine participated in the program and saw his business do much better afterwards. He made wider links to the community and stakeholders and expanded his work."

Christine is also hoping to develop new partnerships in other areas of environmental need.

"For example, we have received an Australian Friendship Grant to work with a company who is developing desalination in the region," she said.

"Through this, we hope to deliver cheaper water to the BfB schools. This helps the school to meet their water needs, but might also help us to use the water funds to make us more sustainable and help other schools to join BfB."

Photo of students standing agmonst plastic cups whilst holding a water bottle.
On average, one student drinks three cups of water per day. Credit: Bottle for Botol
Last Updated: 6 November 2019
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