Plastic is on our minds. 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 of 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 chickens 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 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, than 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 community 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 CleanupsTrash Hero Amed on Facebook
HEROES : 4795 kids and 2428 adults
30596 kg’s of NON organic trash removed
Cleaning at our doorstep
After participating in this joint clean-up organised by Trash Hero Amed, we went back to our 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 restaurants, bars or a 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 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 (A walk down memory lane: Out of India). The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are as remote as it gets. Far from 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 an 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.
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 there 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.
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. Most 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 hold them accountable to take back what they have put out into the world.
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 highlight one alternative approach. An 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’
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 countries even decisions – about. It is good that we start somewhere, but the same as with collecting rubbish, we can’t stop there.
To be continued: Rubbish wave: Looking for solutions for small islands.