What is your New Year's resolution this year? Mine is not going to be to eat less cake (why?), drink less wine (god forbid!) or exercise more (I have accepted that my body is just fine the way it is). This year I am going to commit to something really hard. This year I am going to try and change my lifestyle so that I use as close to zero plastic as possible. Let's face it, plastic is one of the biggest problems the environment is facing today, and it is entirely, 100% caused by us. There is no way of denying that. It's not a "cycle of nature" or "evolution". It is a completely human problem, and we are the only ones who can provide the solution. Mother Nature can't handle this one.
The problem with plastic in Bali is very topical. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and makes up 3.5% of the total world population, but produces 12.3% of the world's plastic pollution. Indonesia is second only to China in plastic waste production (between 0.8kg and 1kg for every man, woman and child, every year). In a country so dependent on the ocean for it's livelihood, where most of the plastic eventually ends up, this is a massive problem.
Think about this.
Small creatures at the bottom of food chain absorb plastic as part of their food. These small animals are then eaten by larger fish which increases the concentration of chemicals. Fish and marine mammals at the top of the food chain have contamination levels millions of times higher than the water in which they live. People get sick easily by eating contaminated seafood that can cause serious health problems, from cancer to damage to their immune system.
Do you really want this to be our future?
Thanks to an amazing effort by a couple of schoolgirls who started a campaign against plastic bags, they are due to be banned from Bali in the New Year of 2018! The Indonesian government this year pledged up to $1BN to in a plan to reduce plastic and other marine pollution by an ambitious 70% within the next 8 years.
After talking to a number of people about what they do in their lives to make a positive change I started thinking more about it. I had lunch with a friend who was talking about toothbrushes (of all things) and that how disappointing it was that she would speak to people who complained about plastic on the beach, but that they weren't willing to make even small changes themselves such as buying a bamboo toothbrush. We agreed that we had to make an effort ourselves first, rather than just moaning about the problem. Yes bamboo toothbrushes are slightly more expensive at 50,000 Rp (about US$4) instead of about 10,000 Rp (less than one dollar) for a plastic one, but then you only buy one about 4 times a year so really it is not a huge expense.
We also talked about water filtration systems that enable you to drink tap water (a huge deal in Indonesia, but something we take for granted back home) and a few other things we can do differently. You can avoid using plastic bags at the supermarket by bringing your own cloth bag, bring your own cup/water bottle etc. wherever you go to avoid buying plastic bottles, say no to plastic straws, bring a reusable lunch box for your bungkus (takeaway) food from the Warung - the paper that is used to wrap food from the Warung is actually coated in plastic which a lot of people don't realise.
So then I started thinking about why people don't do these things already given that there is so much information available about the problem and possible solutions. And I came up with two reasons.
Firstly cost - it is often more expensive (and sometimes excessively so) to be "green". Organic products in non-plastic packaging have a higher markup. Where I live in Canggu, the hipster crowd is actively targeted with "eco" or "organic" products, which are priced at a premium. Metal water bottles start at 250k-300k Rp (around US$25)!!!
The second reason is lack of availability or bad habits or forgetfulness (I always forget my water bottle and end up being thirsty because I refuse to buy a plastic one) or in reality sometimes just pure laziness. Nobody is perfect. We are all guilty of this sometimes, and I don't exclude myself from this group, although I try as much as possible to refuse, reuse, recycle and reduce!
So then I started looking around my house to see what I could change personally - what was in plastic packaging that I could replace? What good habits could I create to prevent myself from forgetting my water bottle or cloth bag, or lunch box for my bungkus food, which I often do?
And I discovered that much of what is in my kitchen (though not all as I do go to a local market for my veggies) is in plastic packaging and often more than one layer. The bag of cookies contains a precise number of individually wrapped biscuits. I have even seen individually plastic-wrapped bananas and coconuts in the supermarkets here (despite coming in their own wrapping purpose-made by Mother Nature). But even more pronounced is that almost every single item in my bathroom, including the scrubby thing I wash myself with in the shower, is made from or packaged in plastic. Although I knew the problem existed I hadn't even noticed the sheer scale of it!
But it doesn't have to be. Remember when your milk used to be delivered by the milkman in glass bottles. Or swappa-crate of beer! Both the wooden crate and the glass bottles were reused. Well perhaps that was before your time. But I can remember. Then they started selling milk in cartons. Now the cartons also have a plastic lid, to make it easier to pour. Totally unnecessary! Unless you are completely hopeless, it's really not that hard to cut the corner off the carton and pour it out of that.
Well, I think we all have to start with ourselves. We can't go around in life blaming "someone" for the world coming to an end, or before we know it the world will have come to an end, and no one will know who that "someone" was who caused it! We will only have ourselves to blame.
We need to make things as easy as possible for ourselves, given that we are human and fallible after all, to try and reduce our plastic consumption. For example, I can put a bottle holder on my bike so I don't forget my drink bottle ever again. No excuses. Keep a thermos or reusable coffee cup in my bag so no more disposable cups, keep a spare lunchbox there too. Or just slow down and take the time to drink the coffee in the cafe in a real cup, instead of on the run. This will also have positive benefits for my stress levels.
Think consciously about why you don't always manage to avoid that plastic bag or plastic bottle, and pre-empt it. Prevent it from happening by just putting small procedures in place. We all forget. We are all busy and in a rush. But by planning these things into our day, we can make it easy to do without even having to think about it (and maybe even save a few rupiah at the same time by not having to buy another bottle of water).
Also, how can we expect people who have less education and less worldly knowledge than us to change their own lives if they see us acting like spoiled children who have had their toys taken away, complaining that it's not done like this at home? Well, you are right, it's not. But we are not living at home in our safe, protected bubble in the western world. We are living at the forefront of the battle line for the environment in Indonesia. And let's face it, like any war, what happens on the battlefront, eventually filters back and affects everyone. So we might as well get on and deal with it here!
We also need to change people's perspectives here, slowly bit by bit. We need to be responsible for educating people here not just about the reasons why they should try and make changes, but also how. And we need to be culturally sensitive while we do it. Indonesian people are not naughty children that should be scolded for doing something wrong. This doesn't mean we should go around lecturing people about their failings!
And it's not just Indonesians - western tourists could do with being a bit more respectful for the environment, in what is not even their own country. Wherever I go on the beaches here, regardless of whether the people using it are tourists or Indonesian, the more people, the more rubbish. There is clearly a direct correlation. Let's just learn to pick up after ourselves!
Well there is hope! I went to the supermarket today, and the Indonesian man in the queue behind me politely refused a plastic bag from the cashier who had automatically offered one, as his meat was already in a plastic bag. I then watched him carry it to his scooter and put it in his bike without needing the extra bag that seems to be the cultural norm here. Well it's a start! If every person here could have that awareness think of the possibility for change!
There are many problems in the world that we might feel we can do nothing about. But this is one where your even your smallest everyday actions can have a positive impact.
So why not join me in my New Year's ecosolution?! Why not let the change start with me and you?