Gary Bencheghib’s Inspiring Battle Against Marine Plastic Pollution

The United Nations has sounded the alarm on marine plastic pollution, labeling it a “slow-moving catastrophe” that poses a grave threat to the economy, health, and overall well-being of nations around the world. With plastic waste traversing the oceans and affecting distant shores, the issue is undeniably global and transborder. 

In the fight against marine plastic pollution, a young and remarkable Frenchman named Gary Bencheghib has emerged as an inspiring and unexpected warrior. At the age of nine, Gary’s family made Bali their home, where his deep love for nature and a sense of adventure led him to a shocking realization: Bali, often perceived as a tourist paradise, was grappling with an overwhelming plastic waste crisis. In fact, Indonesia was responsible for releasing more than 600,000 tons of plastic into the world’s oceans each year.

At the tender age of fourteen, Gary, along with his siblings Kelly and Sam, initiated a weekly beach cleanup program in Bali, which would eventually evolve into a full-fledged organization known as “Make a Change World.” This dynamic organization produced engaging and educational multimedia content focused on plastic pollution and environmental conservation.

Gary’s quest for innovative solutions to the plastic pollution crisis took him from the shores of Indonesia to the bustling streets of New York City, where he pursued filmmaking at the renowned New York Film Academy. Driven by audacious ideas, Gary and his team embarked on unconventional endeavors, such as navigating polluted waterways in New York City, circumnavigating Bali in a repurposed traditional fishing boat, and documenting his brother Sam’s cross-continental run while wearing recycled plastic shoes. Through these captivating documentaries and videos, Gary aimed to raise public awareness, especially among the younger generation, about the urgent need for environmental protection.

In 2017, Gary and his team undertook a groundbreaking expedition on the Citarum River in West Java, showcasing the alarming condition of what was dubbed “the world’s most polluted river.” This ambitious project, presented in a series of nine compelling videos, garnered widespread attention and even prompted a response from Indonesian President Joko Widodo, leading to a seven-year rehabilitation initiative for the Citarum River.

Inspired by his experiences and armed with a desire for tangible change, Gary and his siblings founded Sungai Watch in 2020. This innovative project introduced a variety of locally crafted, mobile trash barriers, strategically placed based on each river’s unique characteristics. The collected debris is sorted daily by staff and local volunteers and meticulously audited, cataloging each piece of plastic by type, brand, and producer. This data-driven approach involves community engagement, partnerships with environmental organizations, and sponsorships from both communities and corporations. Sungai Watch also established Indonesia’s first trash hotline, allowing citizens to report trash locations through a dedicated WhatsApp line.

Since its inception, Sungai Watch has successfully installed 150 trash barriers in Bali and an additional twenty in Java, amassing over a million kilograms of both organic and non-organic waste. Gary’s vision doesn’t stop here; his organization’s next ambitious goal is to deploy a thousand trash barriers across Indonesia’s most polluted rivers.

Gary Bencheghib’s innovative and daring approach to addressing marine plastic pollution has not gone unnoticed. In 2023, Gary Bencheghib was honored as one of the four recipients of the esteemed Ramon Magsaysay Award, further solidifying his role as a true visionary and leader in the fight against marine plastic pollution.