Bali is nicknamed "The Island of Gods" with good reason. In many ways, it comes as close to paradise as we could imagine. Sadly, this image has been tarnished - trash clutters rice fields, and plastic bags line roadsides at the best of times. During monsoon season, strong winds blow tons of marine debris to shore. Flooding rivers flush rubbish from riverbanks to the coast, compounding the problem. The paradise known as Bali is drowning in plastic.
Why Marine Pollution is a Problem
A once pristine tourist beach clogged with garbage is a vivid image. It's easy to understand why this would be bad for tourism and, by extension, the economy of an exotic location. But the worst risks are unseen.
Pollution is a serious conservation issue because debris can trap or choke marine animals. Microplastics that are invisible to the naked eye create a more immediate problem. Fish can swallow these, introducing them to our own food chain directly affecting our health.
Why it is Everyone’s Problem
Indonesia is the planet's second biggest contributor to marine debris, creating about 1.29 million metric tons annually. To put this into context, we must consider the country's terrain: It is not a solid landmass but an archipelago of 13,000 islands. More than 75% of its surface is water, and its coastline is almost 55,000 kilometres long.
The stark truth is that Indonesia is a concentrated microcosm that shows what is happening globally. Bali only makes the problem very visible. But what lies at the root of the problem, and what can we do?
Two Sides of the Tourism Coin
After airport renovations in 1960, international flights to Bali were available for the first time. The resulting tourism boom allowed the island to prosper and benefited the Balinese in many ways. A growing middle class became the backbone of the economy, while infrastructure and medical care vastly improved the quality of life. Universities and job opportunities created prospects for youth that their grandparents could not have imagined.
But unsurprisingly, rapid development came at the cost of Nature and its resources. Tourism centers show the sharpest increase in both traffic and pollution. The small island of Bali now receives 4 million international and 8 million domestic visitors annually. And each one of them generates waste.
What is Changing
Proudly Balinese companies like Avani Eco tackle the problem at the source. It makes sustainable packaging and hospitality products from renewable, natural, and compostable materials. Founded in 2014, the company strives to make a difference by merging technology, convenience, and sustainability. In their own words, they strive to help communities and businesses "ignite initiative that can generate sustainable impact for the environment."
How to Help
Avani Eco encourages prospective visitors to develop good habits at home and maintain them when travelling. Be more conscious of packaging when shopping, and ask retailers to change to eco-friendly options. Avoiding single-use plastics is another simple way to make a real difference.
The Culture Clash
All Balinese packaging was biodegradable before plastic arrived with tourism. Merchants bundled items artistically in leaves or newsprint, so there was no need to dispose of wrappings safely. Sadly, this aspect of Balinese culture did not keep pace with new environmental threats. And Covid-19 only fuelled our obsession with plastic wrapping.
Lack of education and an unsupportive system are the main culprits. Few Balinese know that plastic does not decompose and may end up in their food and bodies. It's difficult to avoid plastic in Bali, and the island's waste management system is ineffective. It simply does not have facilities to handle the volume of trash it produces. The garbage that does not find its way to limited landfills goes straight to the ocean.
What is Changing
One Island One Voice addresses the problem practically and publicly with Bali's Biggest Clean Up. The impactful annual event raises awareness and advocates for real change. "We strongly believe that the time for pointing fingers and shaming is over and that we should use the time left for collaborations and impact with all levels whether its government, private sectors, scientists, activists or NGO's," they declare. "We need all hands on board."
How to Help
In 2022, almost 4,000 people joined Bali's Biggest Clean Up in 130 locations across the island and collected nearly 12 tons of trash. It's the best excuse we've ever heard of to plan a trip to paradise. But it is also a legitimate community organization with a proven track record that you could support from home.
Every Choice Matters
Tourism literally started the mess in Bali. Surprisingly, tourism could be the solution too. The Balinese government does not have the resources to solve the problem alone. Property developers and hospitality providers have the resources but rely on buyer demand to decide if change is viable.
You can help to prove that sustainability supports profitability by choosing venues that show concern for their surroundings. Effective recycling, wastewater treatments and energy-saving measures all support the environment. Fair wages, good working conditions and social investment support humanity.
The pollution crisis extends far beyond Bali and dream holidays. It's global, and each of us already makes a difference in countless small ways daily. Awareness, mindfulness, and a little imagination can make that impact positive.