Initially, I believed that Bali was doing relatively well for a progressive country, in terms of plastic waste. Full of westernised cafes and restaurants, Bali depicted a rather cleanly image, with their metal straws and ‘plastic-free’ signage around the place.
However, the deeper I searched into this idealised plastic free land, the more lies I discovered. Although my travel covered majority of the main island, Gili Trawangan is an important case study to share. After cycling around the island, plastic amongst the sand and on the side of pathways was manifest. Hostels, houses, cafes, bars, beaches, all absolutely covered in rubbish. Signs captioned “Keep the Island Green” read every few hundred metres. Yet at the base of them; straws, bottles, bags and even cigarette butts – as if people were intentionally adding to the free-for-all garbage piles.
I began to feel emotional after coming across a bunch of locals encouraging me to swim with turtles just fifty metres off from the shore – yuck. I stopped on my bicycle and chatted to them. How do you get the rubbish of this wee island? Is it recycled? Does anyone bother to clean the sand? To my dismay, the Balinese told me that at midnight every night, at least seven horse carts collect rubbish from the bins on the island. May I note that this island is tiny – only about half an hour to cycle around.
Upon pick up, the horse carts proceed to dump the waste in the middle of the island, which upon further inspection was very easy to locate. Resultant of little funding, and thus no means to transport the rubbish off the island, the rubbish is burnt during the night. One local was at a loss, claiming “there is nowhere else to put it”. He thanked me for having respect regarding their rubbish policies, and mentioned that they try to clean the beaches twice a week.
I asked if the group of us could go down and do a quick clean, but they then told me there would be nothing to collect the rubbish in, and they unrelentingly persisted in again offering me five-dollar turtle snorkels, a further example of what is important (livelihood) and what’s not (rubbish). It is unfortunate, but obvious where the priorities lie in Indonesia, and particularly in Bali. It was made abundantly clear to me as to why Indonesia has declared a garbage emergency early in 2018, with clean-up crews removing hundreds of tonnes of rubbish each day.
Indonesia is the second biggest contributor to marine debris in the world, with only a small slice of the populous. The government has pledged to reduce plastic waste by 70% by 2025, something that will only be achieved with the help of everyone – both tourists and locals. The aim is to achieve this goal through increased recycling and a renewed public awareness. With little funding and nowhere to put the rubbish, I personally am finding little to be optimistic about.
I for one am very aware of the complexity of the problem, it will take time, nothing will happen overnight, however I feel it necessary to at least attempt to contribute a partial solution to the growing problem. One way that I believe we could improve would be implementation of a tourist rubbish tax for anyone entering the islands.
Thousands of tourists enter Gili Trawangan each day, and a contribution of $1NZD per person upon entry, would help with waste management and recycling significantly. At a personal level, I believe it is extremely important for local bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels to stop offering unnecessary plastic with every item that is purchased.
Contributor: Samantha Cox