Posted by on March 1, 2019

Man pushing cart loaded with plastic containers in Indonesia
Man pushing a cart loaded with plastic containers, Indonesia, photo by Sander Wehkamp

Big changes in Bali

Plastic is a huge problem here in Indonesia. It seems insane that we as a human race have created something that lasts forever and use it only once. Just over a year ago I decided to start a New Year’s Eco-solution and reduce my consumption of plastic. Although I try every day to reduce the amount of plastic waste I personally produce, it has been difficult. This month’s blog is an update on my personal journey to reduce plastic consumption. But I also want to talk about the incredible first steps that have been taken in my adopted home to address a worldwide problem.

I am sure I don’t need to tell you the negative impact of plastic on our oceans and environment. How even rubbish dumped far away from our oceans can end up there through land run-off and other waterways. Indonesia is a developing country and is one of the worst offenders in a worldwide plastic pollution epidemic. Indonesia produces 12.3% of global plastic waste (130,000 cubic metres per day) yet it makes up only 3.48% of the global population. Bali, where I have been living for the last two and a half years, is a sad example of this. Every day 5000 cubic metres of waste is illegally dumped in Bali. Bali is also one of the most important tourism regions for Indonesia. 80% of jobs are related to tourism. If the trash problem in Bali continues to grow, tourism will decrease and all of these people who rely on it for income will be affected.

The Bali regional government has recognised the detrimental effect single use plastics and trash have on both our environment and the Balinese economy. In 2019 as a direct result community pressure including a campaign started by two teenage sisters, Bali has banned the use of single use plastic bags.

Plastic rubbish piled on the beaches of Bali, paradise lost
Plastic rubbish piled on the beaches of Bali

A Youth-led Movement

Isabel and Melati Wijsen started the Bye Bye Plastic Bags campaign and NGO at the age of 10 and 12 after being inspired by a school project to make a difference. That was in 2013. They are now 15 and 17 and have created an international movement of inspiration, youth empowerment and encouragement for entire communities to say NO to plastic bags.

As well as speaking at 231 worldwide events, including UN conferences in New York and a number of Ted Talks, they have expanded worldwide creating 25 new teams. They aim to build awareness about the problem but also to offer solutions. They have written 2 educational booklets aimed at elementary schools in Indonesia and are proud to say their campaign is driven by youth. In fact, they have spoken to over 20,000 young people and believe education is the heart of the solution.

BBPB Projects

Bye Bye Plastic Bags has also created projects such as the Pilot Village program, providing alternative re-usable bags to shop owners which has reduced single use plastic bags by 60%. River BOOM toolkits collect trash that would otherwise flow downstream to the ocean. The NGO teaches school children how to make DIY river booms from recycled materials, and has created a video to help people around the world make their own. Mountain Mama’s Social Enterprise helps women from a mountain village make alternative bags using donated cloth materials. This gives them a new source of income and for every bag sold one is donated to a local community member. A Bali-wide campaign – One Island One Voice is a collection of NGO’s, shops, hotels, restaurants, organisations and individuals who are committed to reducing waste in Bali and help solve the plastic problem. Plastic pollution is a problem we must solve together!

Shampoo Bars from Blue Azure save on plastic
Shampoo Bars from Blue Azure

My Personal Journey

So what am I doing personally to reduce my plastic waste footprint?

I buy products which have replaced plastic packaging with alternatives. I buy sambal (chilli sauce) in glass bottles with metal caps rather than plastic. Another great example is switching to a shampoo bar instead of buying shampoo in plastic bottles. My last shampoo bar lasted more than three months! Although the cost is a little higher, it actually works out cheaper than buying shampoo in a bottle. It also contains minimal chemicals and no parabens which are bad for you and the environment. And since I travel a lot for work, it takes up less space and makes no mess in my toiletries kit. Blue Azure supplies a high quality product which is very long lasting.

Joining community groups such as Zero Waste Bali which offer ideas and information to help people find alternatives to plastic packaging is also helpful. Community support can be a powerful tool for change.

Think Minimalism

I say NO to plastic straws and carry a metal straw for the only drink that really requires a straw – a coconut! It’s quite tricky to drink one without a straw, but for everything else I do it the old fashioned way – with my mouth.

Bali also has a few stores that offer products you can purchase in bring-your-own packaging. Nuts, oats, rice, bread, vegetables, even dishwashing liquid and detergents can be found in Bali from shops that allow you to refill your own containers. As much as possible I buy from my local Toko (small shop) which is only a few steps from my house and I can carry the products home in my hands even if I don’t have my cloth bag with me. It also means I am supporting my local community and is the ultimate in a convenience store!

Say NO to Single-use Plastic

I refuse single use plastic bags and carry an alternative bag everywhere I go. Whenever possible I reuse any plastic bags from product packaging for my rubbish at home. I have got so good at reducing my plastic bag collection I am actually struggling to find bags to use for the bin.

Together with Blue Azure, Soulwater Productions is producing its own range of beautiful reusable cloth bags. Combining my photos of marine life and Bali and Blue Azure’s digital printing technology we are producing shopping bags that are not only practical, they also look fantastic. Because the images are printed with a water-less technique there is no water waste, and no ink polluting our precious waterways. It also means the picture will not fade over time. The bags are made of very strong parachute material which can carry a full load of groceries. They are also light enough to pack up into a small pouch you can loop on your keychain. You need never be without your reusable shopping bag again!

Bag with a beautiful squid in blue clear water

You can make a difference

So what can you do to make a change? Really every little step helps. You don’t need to go crazy and start buying all sorts of “reusable/recyclable” stuff. All that means is you are consuming more when the idea is to consume less. Definitely say NO to plastic bags and carry your own reusable bag wherever you go. You never know when you might need it.

But look around your home and see what you can reuse instead of buying a trendy new “eco-friendly” product to do what you already have the tools for. Why buy bamboo cutlery when you already have traditional metal cutlery in your drawer? Or buy a reusable coffee cup when you already have china cups in the cupboard? Why spend money on something that you don’t need?

Be inventive. If you buy wine in a box, don’t throw away the bladder when it’s finished. Blow them up to make great travel pillows or floaty toys for the kids in the pool. Use a yoghurt tub for planters for your seedlings if you have a garden. Or make a bird feeder from them. Grow an avocado from seed with toothpicks and a plastic pot. It’s good for your stomach and your soul.

Woman holding a single use disposable coffee cup
Disposable coffee cup, Photo by Javier Molina

Think Green

There is a huge market of products out there that have been created solely by our desire to “be green”. Really being green means thinking about your purchasing decisions carefully and doing your research into what products are actually made from. There is also a lot of misinformation. People often assume that because something is made from recycled materials that it is better. This is not necessarily true. If products are produced from recycled items it often means they won’t last as long, you will need to replace them more often, and actually end up consuming more! Better to buy a high quality long lasting product.

If you have no choice but to buy products in plastic packaging, buy items that are in containers that you can use again for something else. Choose the larger size tub of yoghurt. This is not only more economical it also means purchasing one plastic container instead of two. The pot is also more likely to be useful for refilling from a bulk supply store with something else. Buy products in glass that can be refilled whenever possible.

What does the future hold?

Ultimately, it is up to each of us to do what we can. We all need to take responsibility for the waste we produce. Don’t blame our ever increasing consumption on the producer. They only supply us with what we want. If we demand products that are sustainable and presented in reusable packaging, that is what producers will give us. So make your voice heard. The best way you can do this is by changing the way you buy. It takes conscious decision making. Our parents never consumed in the way we are today. There is no reason why we can’t turn back the clock and learn from the past. Let’s try and bring back those positive habits of the previous generations.

As for me, I have reduced my plastic consumption, but it is still an ongoing battle. Every time I go to the supermarket I am faced with vegetables individually wrapped in plastic. But it is getting easier, slowly. Shop assistants no longer look at me strangely when I put loose tomatoes in my basket. In fact, they ask if I want a plastic bag or not. And of course the answer is always NO. Baby steps.... remember it is always baby steps.

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