Plastic is on our mind. Every high tide leaves behind a line of plastic on the beach of Amed. Every heavy rain shower washes half burned or openly collected rubbish from the settlements and streets into fields and streams, distributed by the wind, animals and more rain, eventually, most it it ends up on the beach and in the ocean. It is heartbreaking to see. Hence, we ask ourselves and others what can we do about it. Here is a first report: Keep your plastic and clean up the rest.

Plastic collection in Bali, no end in sight

Last year I was hopeful that new regulations and initiatives in Bali would lead to change (Plastic Planet: Minimising plastic pollution) and they might eventually. The overall problem is still devastating though. Apparently, there are garbage trucks missing around Amed. So the rubbish keeps standing at the side of the street forever. Dogs, cats, rats and chicken look for their share and then the wind and rain spread it all out again. People get used to it and contribute to the growing pile of waste. This is a worldwide problem. It is not just the others, we are all in this together. If you don’t have a beach close by to observe the problem first hand, just take a look at what you throw away, each and every day, each and every week: Packaging, wrapping, (food) containers etc.

Granted, collecting rubbish, is just working on the symptoms and not tackling the root of the plastic pollution. Nevertheless it is necessary to deal with the mess that already has been created all over the world. In any case, it’s better to start somewhere, then to wait and complain.

Get active in local clean-ups or just do it yourself

When we lived in Labuan Bajo on Flores we heard the first time about Trash Hero, an organisation based on local communities members organising clean-ups that any volunteer can join. These get-together cleanings are usually organised once a week and there is additional education work, especially with kids. Since then, the movement has definitely grown. The website of Trash Hero lists 32 chapters in Indonesia. Via Facebook I learnt about the special event “Bali’s biggest cleanup, 1 Island, 1 Voice” which took place on the 15th of February. Afterwards they announced:

Spread over 3 locations, we had 680 volunteers showing up and 623,5 kg of plastic and other non-organic trash was removed from the beach, road and ocean! … Our total count is now: 215 Cleanups
HEROES : 4795 kids and 2428 adults
30596 kg’s of NON organic trash removed

Trash Hero Amed on Facebook

Cleaning at our doorstep

After participating in this joint clean-up organised by Trash Hero Amed, we went back to our own clean-up routine. Every couple of days we are picking up the rubbish on the beach in front of our house. After all, this is our temporary home and we would like to set an example. It is badly needed. Only a couple of restaurant, bars or few hotels are regularly cleaning up their doorstep or backyard for that matter. On one of our walks during which we picked up trash in another area of the beach, we actually found the local rubbish disposal site. Some of the waste collected around Amed ends up there and is partly burned in the open, from the looks quite efficiently. But it always leaves the question: What to do with the highly toxic ashes?

Andaman islands under pressure

We had the pleasure of living on Long Island (India) for half a year. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are as remote as it gets. Far of the Indian coast and relatively sparsely inhabited there was no communal rubbish collection or treatment in any way, shape or form. The strategy at the time we lived there was to burn their own rubbish on a open heap next to the resort. Glass and plastic bottles had been used as building materials. But they were piling up already back then.

Over the time we lived there, we cleaned up the nearby beach completely. Eventually we went further and further into the bushes to collect “our” trash. We burnt everything quite efficiently in between big rocks on the beach, but were wondering about the toxic ashes staying behind. Now Blue Planet is looking for ideas on how to deal with the rubbish they are now also collecting. There is a movement forming on the Andamans as well: Mission #andamancleanup. We are trying to help them and shall look for low key, simple to make solutions that can help small, remote islands on a small-scale level to deal with their rubbish as well as all the waste that gets washed up on their shore.

Keep your plastic and clean up the rest

„Keep your plastic“ has different meanings depending on who is addressed.

Consumers

For as long as you can use it, keep it. Don’t go plastic free by throwing all the long-term plastic items away, just to buy new stuff. New products, no matter what they are made of, come with their own ecological backpack already. Water, energy and raw materials are needed for production, then their is transportation to just name a few steps along the production line of an item – any item. Of course, avoid single use plastics wherever possible and maybe even clean up some rubbish that isn’t from you.

Countries

Even the countries praising themselves for good cleanliness, efficient rubbish collection and supposedly high recycling rates, like Germany, don’t really know what to do with all their plastic waste and send it out into the world – for example to Indonesia. Brilliant. I wrote Out of sight, out of mind: Plastic waste isn’t recycled yet! a year ago and unfortunately it hasn’t changed much yet.

Producers and politicians

There are very innovative and responsively operating companies out there. But to turn the tide quickly enough, we need to transform the way everybody is producing. Mostly likely this will only happen based on binding political decisions, rules and regulations to force producers to use less packaging, to design products in a way that they can be recycled easily and efficiently, and to hold them accountable to take back what they have put out into the world.

Civil society

Local trash collections organised by social initiatives such as Trash Hero are a great starting point to work together in communities. There are many initiatives, projects and campaigns and we are planning to take a closer look at some at a later point. For now we’d like to highight one alternative approach. A NGO takes the matter to court in California.

Earth Island Institute, which filed the lawsuit, says a significant amount of the eight to 20m tons of plastic entering the Earth’s oceans annually can be traced back to a handful of companies, which rely heavily on single-use plastic packaging.

The suit seeks to require these companies to pay to remediate the harm that plastic pollution has caused to the earth and oceans. It also demands these companies stop advertising products as “recyclable”, when they are, in fact, largely not recycled.

Erin McCormick: Coke and Pepsi sued for creating a plastic pollution ‘nuisance’

In conclusion

Let’s face it, the main amount of plastic waste is not coming from straws or plastic shopping bags or other small items we have debates – and in some coutries even decisions – about. It is good that we start somewhere, but same as with collecting rubbish, we can’t stop there.

To be continued.

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