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Frenchmen kayak down the world’s most polluted river in plastic bottle canoes

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, September 6, 2017 | 05:03 pm
Frenchmen kayak down the world’s most polluted river in plastic bottle canoes

Dubbed the #PlasticBottleCitarum expedition, the Frenchmen spent a total of two weeks cruising the river, starting from Majalaya to Pantai Bahagia, which is located at the river's mouth on the Java Sea. (Make A Change World/File)

On Aug. 14, 22-year-old Gary Bencheghib and his brother, 20-year-old Sam Bencheghib, hopped on two canoes made of plastic bottles and bamboo and started their expedition along Citarum River, West Java.

Dubbed the #PlasticBottleCitarum expedition, the Frenchmen spent a total of two weeks cruising the river, starting from Majalaya to Pantai Bahagia, located at the river's mouth to the Java Sea. During the expedition, they documented their experiences and local initiatives they encountered throughout the journey.

Fresh off the canoe, Gary sat down with The Jakarta Post on Saturday to share his experiences.

The filmmaker-slash-environmentalist said the idea of kayaking on plastic bottle canoes was to give waste a second life. Prior to this, Gary and his friends had paddled down the Mississippi River in the United States. However, at that time, he did not find enough shocking visuals to change people’s mindsets on waste.

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The brothers not only saw plastic trash, but also dead animals, trash fires and waste from textile factories along the river.The brothers not only saw plastic trash, but also dead animals, trash fires and waste from textile factories along the river. (Make A Change World/File)

The brothers then decided to go to Citarum River, the world’s most polluted river, in search of shocking visuals to change people’s mindsets about waste disposal and encourage people to reduce their consumption of plastics.

Gary added that since the brothers were raised in Bali, they wanted to do something for Indonesia.

“The first few days, I was a pessimist. [The view] was worse than you could imagine,” said Gary, explaining that he saw plastic waste, dead animals, trash fires and waste from textile factories along the river.

The journey also led Gary to discover three main issues facing the Citarum River, namely a lack of education, a lack of proper waste management and a lack of support from the government.

“The provincial administration has been doing a lot; encouraging eco-villages all along the river. But we need more help from the government,” he said. “I think we need to change the habits on all fronts, not only individuals."

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They also encountered local initiatives, namely Pak Sariban, Ibu-ibu Bersih and Jurig Runtah. The individuals and communities involved are said to have made efforts to clean up the environment.

Videos have been posted on the Make A Change World’s Facebook page, a media outlet the brothers founded eight years ago.

In addition to documenting the situation, the brothers also visited local schools to educate the students about zero-waste lifestyles.

"We also donated our [plastic bottle boat] to a corporation of pemulung [trashpickers] called Bangkit Bersama to help them clean the river," said Gary.

The expedition is said to be just the beginning. Gary said that as they met people and came to understand the issues, they realized they could actually do something.

“People from around the world have been asking how they can help,” he said, adding that he was still thinking about the exact call of action. (kes)

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