Message in a Botol

Thursday, 25 September, 2014

Words by Jonathon Rundall
Photography by Jason Childs

Every year, millions of plastic materials lay waste to the beautiful coastlines of Bali. Schools throughout Indonesia give disposable plastic water cups to their students, few of whom are aware of the damage they are causing to their home. Without proper environmental education, these children are contributing to the conservatively estimated 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste already in our oceans.

“You go to the beaches and it’s just in your face,” Chris Kemp explains, motioning at his own face to emphasise the point. Chris is the Managing Director of Bottle for Botol, a cause fighting against single-use plastics in both Indonesia and Australia. His strategy is simple, and spelled out in the organisation’s title. For every bottle purchased in Australia, one bottle is donated to a partnered school in Indonesia, effectively replacing the disposable cups with refillable, stainless steel water bottles.

Recently celebrating the organisation’s first birthday, Chris reflects on the beginning of his Bottle for Botol journey. It was quite literally a great sea change for Chris, who moved from a desk at NAB to the sunshine in Bali. “I saw this awesome job on the east coast of Bali, so I jumped at it,” Chris explains.

Chris went to Bali as part of the AYAD [Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development] program. Having been one of two students to study Indonesian all through high school, Chris was able to take advantage of the government’s push for engaging with sustainability education in Asia. By earning their support, all that was needed was a team of other enthusiastic eco-warriors to help make Bottle for Botol a reality.

Chris met fellow organiser Christine Parfitt through volunteering with AYAD, who then introduced him to Pak Yasa, now Botol for Botol’s representative in Bali. With a team ready to go, Chris’ eyes turned to the best way of reducing plastic on Bali’s shores. They went to work at the school in which Pak taught, bringing with them a curriculum of environmental education, something that is lacking throughout Indonesia. From here, they realised their ultimate goal for Bottle for Botol—creating a generational change away from single-use plastics.

The local kids play a huge part in the success of Bottle for Botol, and to Chris they’re more than just campaigners. “They’re our key product: students who care about this issue and want to make a change. The bottles are just a by-product of that, and the more we can make it student led, the better,” he explains. A very effective by-product, too, one that has sparked involvement from nearly 15,000 students from about 20 schools. This is an increase from two schools just 14 months ago.

These kids have also played a critical role in the campaign’s branding and product design. In addition to creating two distinct designs which don the bottles, the students came up with the idea to include a ‘symbol of friendship’ tag on each of the lids. Each tag has the name of an Indonesian student, and a personal message from them, thanking the Australian consumer for purchasing the bottle. According to Chris, these tags “make the connection real”, and give a sense of ownership to those involved.

Greater exposure is certainly an increasingly important part of Bottle for Botol’s expansion plans. In a recent coup for the cause, Chris managed to get the bottles into the hands of the Jakarta Bin Tang AFL team during their recent International Cup campaign. This opportunity arose through Chris’ connections with the team’s junior development program.

Combine that with the involvement from the Indonesian centre for environmental education, the Pusat Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup, and Bottle for Botol is gaining momentum. More importantly, their message is being received.

“For each school that we take on, it’s around another 400,000 single-use plastic aqua cups that will be reduced each year,” Chris explains. This is a momentous figure in the scheme of things, and one that Chris hopes will compound annually with increasing participation.

To join the Bottle For Botol team, email Chris at info@ To purchase your own bottle, head to the organisation’s website.