Indonesia - Bali's plastic rubbish problem

This guest post has been submitted by Daniel Brooks who is currently in Bali whilst filming a fly on the wall documentary for UK Television. It highlights the huge problem of plastic waste not just in Bali, but throughout Indonesia.

Plastic rubbish in Bali

Daniel's Story

Myself, my wife Deborah and our three children, Oliver 9, Hazel nearly 5, and Heather Blue nearly 2 have moved to Bali for an experimental six month period to see if we want to live in south east Asia. A UK TV crew are following our story and have given us a camera to film as we go for a new documentary series about families going to live more sustainable lives in the wild.

We arrived during a spell of the very worst weather Bali has seen in years. The most rain I have EVER experienced in all my worldly adventures! Torrential rain, gales, electrical storms, floods and landslides! What had we gotten ourselves into?! This was not what we had imagined.

Setting up home

A land owner here in the Bali highlands is allowing us to build an eco home on his land out of bamboo, trees, earth and grass for a thatch roof. I started work as soon as the extreme weather allowed. Clearing the land in a steep sided piece of jungle. It looked right out of a scene from Gorillas in the Mist.

Daniel's temporary home in Bali


Hillside home in the Indonesian jungle

Plastic everywhere

One thing you cannot help but notice in most of South East Asia, is the rubbish problem! There is plastic EVERYWHERE! Even one meter down in the earth I was finding plastic in the middle of the jungle! I was going around picking up bags of the stuff. But it seemed pointless, it literally is EVERYWHERE! How can anyone make a difference when everyone is throwing it away, and with no trash collection in most of Bali?

The answer to that, or at least a big part of the solution, was soon to come to us when we were invited to a dinner party with new friends from England who have lived with their four daughters in Bali for eight years. The small dinner party was to celebrate a days beach cleaning all over Bali, organized largely by a group of school children.

Innovation in action

This inspiring group of kids had been assembled by a couple of teenage girls, Malati and Isabel, who together had decided to do something about Bali's huge plastic problem. They created a group called 'Bye Bye Plastic Bags' and started to address the problem of plastic waste in Bali.

In Bali, most of the plastic gets burnt or thrown in the gutter, on the roadside, out of sight in the jungle or the dry river bed where the next rainstorm will wash it away and into our seas.

Asia's plastic rubbish problem

These teenagers started to encourage villagers to make alternatives; 100% biodegradable bags made out of natural materials.They started writing to the governor and when their letters went ignored, they approached the airport manager and managed to charm their way into the terminal to gather thousands of signatures so that the governor would have to take notice. Which, he eventually did! They were invited to talk with him and now have a written promise that Bali will go plastic bag free by the year 2018. A massive achievement for a group of kids! A massive achievement for anyone!

Raising worldwide awareness

Now these girls have travelled the world doing talks including a very popular and inspiring international TED talk in London that has been viewed by more than a million people worldwide.

My family and I have been trying to reduce our use of plastic these last years, but it's NOT easy! In our crazy oil fueled society today, most are forced to shop in supermarkets, because of prices. It is difficult to find a single item in a supermarket that is not wrapped in plastic.

The challenge of ditching plastic

It's a real challenge to stop using plastic and stop polluting our planet. We feel trapped because we are unable to afford food that is NOT wrapped in toxic material, and most of us are not in positions to grow our own food.

Many of us are trying though and that's all we can do. Some of us are trying really hard and are making many sacrifices and going through some really challenging transition times .... Cold turkey! It's not easy to give up the things we have become so reliant on.

A close-up of the jungle rubbish

Times are-a-changing though. The tide has turned, leaving mountains of toxic plastic waste on our shores to deal with. Recycling the toxic material is only a short term, as well as a short-sighted solution to this huge problem. Not producing it requires the consumer to stop buying it in the first place - This is the only long-term and logical solution.

Plastic alternatives

There are alternatives- organic materials now being made from corn starch or other plant-based substances can replace plastics. It has now also been discovered that fungi can break down plastics so we have hope that the mountains we have already created can be dealt with responsibly. 

A saying I'd like to promote from the back of my head to one first and foremost in my mind is: "There are no problems, only solutions!"

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