The island paradise of Bali has had some bad press lately, mostly a result of a number of international stories regarding the incredible amount of plastic waste that is washing ashore on Bali’s beaches and floating in Bali’s waters. In this article we are taking a fresh look at this enormous environmental disaster and also meeting individuals that hope to turn the tide on Bali’s plastic pollution.
Enormous piles of plastic debris on tropical beaches is not good for an icon of international tourism, see our article: Bali Low: Is this our New Definition of Paradise? A great part of the problem lies in Bali’s proximity to Java, Indonesia’s most populous island and the origin for much of the plastic waste that enters Bali’s waters. But it is also symptomatic of the rampant commercialization and lack of environmental infrastructure throughout the countries of South-east Asia. Conditions that have resulted in Indonesia being declared the world’s second largest contributor of marine waste after China, as reported in The Diplomat.
50 Tons of Debris Daily
To quantify the scope of Bali’s plastic pollution problem, the island’s officials recently estimated that 50 tons of trash wash ashore daily resulting in what they have called a “garbage emergency.”
While in Bandung, Indonesia’s third largest city, floating debris in it’s river got so thick that the army was called in to unclog the jam. Of course, all they could do was to break up the mess allowing the debris to flow downstream and into the sea.
The consequences of this enormous environmental disaster are not only an inconvenience for Bali’s tourism industry but impacts the health of Indonesia’s people and the quality of the marine environment that is touched everywhere by floating plastic pollution.
Hoping To Turn The Tide On Bali’s Plastic Pollution
While the recent bad press does not misrepresent the reality of Bali’s plastic pollution, we can also report on the actions of concerned individuals that are trying to turn the tide. Last year we reported on Gary and Sam Bencheghib, two brothers that grew up on Bali. One day while they were surfing off the island’s south coast, they were engulfed in a sea of garbage.
The experience motivated Gary and Sam to organize “Make a Change Bali” a grassroots effort that enlisted local schools and business to collaborate in weekly beach clean-ups. Others have continued that effort even while the brothers have turned their attention to the source of the problem on Java. See our article: Kayaking the World’s Most Polluted River!
Zero Waste to Ocean Center in Bali
Meet Mike O’Leary who has developed the Zero Waste to Ocean Education Center to help locals to appreciate that there is value in the waste that they recycle. Houses are built from “organic” cement; plastics are recycled; organic garbage is composted to grow seedlings and seed balls that help in reforestation; and they recycle resort soap for donation to local communities. Mike says that their center can recycle 98% of waste.
“it’s all about having fun while looking out for mother earth and the environment.”
Turning Flip-Flop Flotsam into Art
Bali is famous for its sublime natural beauty from its seashore temples to its terraced rice fields. But that beauty is being strangled by the uncontrolled accumulation of waste. To draw attention to this threat, Bali’s Potato Head Beach Club enlisted the help of Liina Klauss, a German-born artist to build a permanent installation from flip-flops. That’s right, flip-flops. 5,000 flip-flops were collected during beach clean-ups. Liina explained why she chose flip-flops:
“Firstly, the amount mirrors our over-production and over-consumption. Secondly, they are worn directly on the body and people identify with them more strongly than, for example, with a water bottle. It’s important to me that people make a direct connection between marine pollution and their own daily lives. After all, it is not ‘them,’ it is every single one of us causing the global plastic pollution”
So why are flip-flops such a large part of Bali’s plastic pollution problem? Flip-flops are ubiquitous throughout the warmer climes of the third world, because they are cheap to produce and durable. And those are the very reasons why we find flip-flops bobbing on the world’s waves and washing up on beaches everywhere. Flip-flops once discarded don’t go away, they just move around, they come back to haunt us decades after we threw them into the trash.
But artists and artisans have found that the brightly colored bits of plastic can be recycled into art and utilitarian things like boats. That’s right boats, see our article on the traditional boat builders of Lamu.
A Crash Program to Solve indonesia’s Pollution Problem
All of this international attention has not gone unnoticed by the Indonesian Government. After the Bencheghib brothers kayaked down Java’s polluted Citarum River the Indonesian government pledged $1 billion to clean up the country’s plastic pollution. But it’s a huge problem that has been accumulating for decades and will take years to make better. Read more in the Guardian.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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