The Plastic Problem

Bali surfers seek to ban plastic bags across the province

| posted on January 30, 2014
Bede Durbidge gets barreled in Indo under the shade of rubbish. The problem of garbage in the water is specifically concentrated in Bali due to its booming tourism industry.

Bede Durbidge gets barreled in Indo under the shade of rubbish. The problem of garbage in the water is specifically concentrated in Bali due to its booming tourism industry. Photo: Noyle

It’s wet season in Bali, when the rains rinse the paradise island of its garbage, pushing it all out to sea. But then the onshore winds turn on and bring tons of trash back to the shore. It’s a cyclical event on the island, but today surfers and locals are saying it’s the worst it’s ever been.

“The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented,” says SURFER photographer Jason Childs, who has lived in Bali for 20 years. “The scariest part is that it’s getting worse every year.”

The massive amount of detritus spans the island’s busiest beaches, including Ulus, Kuta, Semiyak, and Canggu. The waste is a mix of local trash and the refuse generated by Bali’s rapidly growing tourism industry. Over three million people visited Indonesia’s smallest province last year alone, up by more than 11 percent from the previous year. The island’s refuse collection and disposal services are not able to keep up with the volume of waste, so the debris is illegally dumped or pushed offsite. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. It all resurfaces on the sand all of those tourists come to enjoy.

Bali’s governor, I Made Mangku Pastika, brushed the issue off as a “natural phenomenon” since it happens every year. “This problem is not anyone’s fault, but is due to a natural phenomenon that routinely occurs,” he said recently, urging the hotels and restaurants to be more involved in the disposal and cleanups. Pastika is right not to point the finger at any single group, but his response is no more than a band-aid approach.

Young Balinese surfer Sonny Perrussel and his friends are calling for a more permanent solution. “It’s just disgusting and really sad,” Perrussel said. “It’s really bad for surfing because it smells and your skin gets oily.” Sick of surfing in the foul water, they started an online petition to ban the use, sale, and production of plastic bags on the island of Bali. Luckily, Governor Pastika promised the boys that if they obtained one million signatures, he would honor their plea.

Word has gotten out, and the petition has gained more than 20,000 signatures in the last few days. Currently, it has just over 38,000 names, still far from the million needed.

“It’s a really big, crazy amount of signatures we have to get,” Perussel said. “It’s a big challenge, but if we do it, it would change our world.”

Though the polyurethane problem is rooted in the province’s outdated infrastructure, the ban would be a major step in the right direction. If you’re feeling inclined to help, add your signature to the petition.

Hardly the tropical Balinese paradise this surfer expected. Photo: Childs

Hardly the tropical Balinese paradise this surfer expected. Photo: Childs

Refuse piles high after having been washed out by the monsoon rains and brought back on land by onshore winds. Photo: Childs

Refuse piles high after having been washed out by the monsoon rains and brought back by onshore winds. Photo: Childs

Bulldozers clean the beach, but it's only a band-aid solution. Hopefully, a successful plastic bag ban makes a permanent difference. Photo: Childs

Bulldozers clean the beach, but only temporarily. Hopefully, a successful plastic bag ban makes a permanent difference. Photo: Childs

  • indogus

    A mate of mine started this initiative a little while back. Another step in the right direction.

  • sue

    I’d like to help get some eyes on this. Plz contact me! -sue,

    • Ben

      I work in a company that makes construction panels from unsorted waste plastics. Believe it or not, we have to pay a lot of money for waste plastic.

      Would love to set up a small factories in some of these places making useful stuff out of this waste.

      • sylviane


        Can you give me more information about your cie
        thank you

  • Jimmy the Saint

    Looks like I Made Mangku Pastika is making a big mistake, looking for a petition to be signed is only going to highlight the problem – through social media – and discourage potential tourists to Bali. Just ban the effing plastic bags already

    • Steve Flynn

      That is exactly the thing needed for change. A boycott of Bali would be about the only thing that will bring change to the Indonesian people. The Indonesian Government does not care about the Environment. They allow garbage to be randomly disposed without even providing proper facilities. They allow rainforest to be chopped down for palm oil, they allow native animals to culled and sold as medicine and souvenirs, they allow the oceans in Indonesia to be raped by commercial fishing fleets to the point of exhaustion. Who gives a flying fuck about more potential tourists coming to Bali. What sickens me is that places that basically uninhabited have dead birds being washed on shore being strangled from plastic…from hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away. Hit them where it hurts most…their wallet. Threaten boycotts, impose fines for polluters…its what the rest of the world does. Spend the money earned from fines on education and clean up programs. Think about how that would improve the tourism sector in future.

  • matt

    Love the idea and have signed the petition but the underlying problem is the education of the Indonesian people. The Indonesian people have not been educated on the importance of recycling and putting their rubbish in the waste and continue to litter their beautiful country. Until this stops sadly the rubbish will continue to contaminate country we all love so much .

    • TheGreenOne

      This plastic trash being deposited on their beaches not only comes from their own population but is also being transported to the islands by ocean currents carrying plastics from Mainlands; where populations like China’s 1.3 billion people or India’s 1.2 billion people can produced much more trash than Bali’s population of 4.2 million . As much as the Indonesian people will have to rethink their way of dealing with their waste, the rest of the world also needs to get a handle on theirs.

      • Winddncr

        My friend, Although China and India are large contributors to the problem of land and Ocean based pollution. They are not a contributing factor regarding Indonesia’s problem.
        I speak from personal experience, the Indonesian culture like many other South East Asian countries Have very little concideration for the enviroment.
        Most of Bali’s garbage is from Bali! the most common method of disposing of garbage is to toss it. But you are absolutly correct that we all have to re think the way we handle our waste. My personal opion is that we need to ban plastic products period and understand that endless consumption not practical.

        • Jacobo

          Thanks for the insight! I have never been to Bali and I hope to have the experience of going there soon after I get out of school. It is apparent now and a little before that many cultures when using these plastic products pioneered by a society [the U.S. that coined the phrase “Throwaway”] may use our products like we do/did when they first became available. Throwing bottles away without thinking, one use of plastic bags, improperly discarding household trash/anything plastic. Of course, now we have some infrastructure to deal with this issue but it is still far from being able to produce what we would like to see as “Cradle to Cradle” use of plastics not “Cradle to Grave”. Would the Plastic trash problem on the Hawaiian Islands and their atolls be a problem stemming from their own culture such as the one that we see in Indonesia? So I believe the answer may be in sharing some of our solutions and technologies with other nations in regards to the plastic problem. Also in response to below, to fix the problem new methods in autonomous collection of floating trash in the gyres around the world via robots proves an interesting concept while also altering the way in which global society transports food and packages, like making a fully bio-degradable polymer. Releasing the information via open source may also allow many companies to cheaply produce this packaging material and give a larger incentive to begin to use immediatly

          • BanzaiKen

            Speaking as someone who was born/grew up in Hawaii, the trash is largely a tourist and infrastructure problem. The ocean still holds a very mysterious past to most locals, it would be both sacrilegious and courting what would be the equivalent of a curse to toss something into the sea. The infrastructure needs modernization, there are signs that say “Kokua, Goes to Ocean” near our storm drains, but people don’t put 2 and 2 together that a rainstorm flushes all of the detritus of the street. Throwing litter on the ground is a good way to wind up in a fistfight in Hawaii, especially if you appear to be from off-island. Our government actually does very brisk business selling recyclable trash to China and Japan, but our infrastructure simply cannot cope with our huge population and tourism industry these days. To go from plantations to tourism has devastated the land in the denser cultivated islands like Maui or especially Oahu.

            However, this is only the start. I would hazard a guess that endemic problems to us (overfishing, land over cultivation, water shortages) will hit Bali soon. Overfishing is an especially tough problem, as island people are used to the sea providing and can’t quite grasp that the ocean has a limit. Combine that with the damage pollution will do to the local fauna and reefs and you have a recipe for disaster in the making.

    • John Donson

      And how? Get involved in schools? – Its not that easy… Anyone can point out the problem but what are you going to do to fix it?

      • Madet

        Send it to space

  • Ferdi Zebua

    Believe me Indonesians, and Denpasarians in particular, do understand the ecological importance of throwing trash away properly… as does New Yorkers I’m sure with their Coney Island landfills…

    [As to how this particular comment of mine contributes to the discussion? I dunno…] [nevermind.] *continues observing discussion*


    fucking oath – plastic is the “shit” of the 20/21st century. 100 years from now, the future will be looking back in history laughing in disgust at how we used such TOXIC crap to cart our shopping around, place our FOOD in, not to mention 1000 other ways plastic is used. I see plastic as ONE of the modern day equivalents as ASBESTOS!

  • Carlos,Gabi e Mel

    …just like here in Brazil, in Itaparica island, the garbage is all over the streets, there are no garbage cans at all! It stays on the ground waiting to be collected….and the wind takes it to the ocean , mainly plastic (that we clean up all the time). Crook mayor insists on disrispecting Nature .We’ll have to get rid of him and have some decent decision maker to change this mess.

  • Dave Nelson

    Kyle Thiermans ” Surfing for Change” addresses the issues well…..check it out

  • Plastic Manners

    Our very soon to be relased documentary: From the Waste Up- Life Without Plastic might be of interest. It follows 16 people as they attempt to live without the loathsome material for one full year. It’s possible, and totally worth it!

  • surf_girl

    Thanks for covering this important issue! Lets get 1 Million signatures! This issue is covered in more depth in Surfing For Change’s latest video as well:

  • Name

    Good they are trying but it is out of control over there. It’s not just bags it’s all the water bottles n everything. Agree that the indo’s need to be educated. While they are teaching them maybe they could let them in on the little secret of pumping some air into the massive amounts of shit over there. Then the water might be drinkable to.

  • Tom

    Wierd that the governers name who can ban the use of plastic(bags) is Mr. I Made Pastic!!!!!! Lets hope the next govener of Bali is named Mr. I Will Ceanup.

  • Fab

    Tourists trash more than locals… When you drink 5 bottle per day, buy take-away food… Enjoy the fancy restaurants, the bars, night club, hotels, buy and consume imported stuff for somewhere wraped by plastic… Etc….
    Don t think when you put your own litter in a trash bin it would be OK…. it would mostly end up in the ocean. If everybody takes trash back home after holidays like i do, bring his own refill bottle water from home, paper for take away food insteed of styrofoam etc…. Always start with ourself before blaming locals or chinese…. The people who trash the most are westerners… the trashing of plastic wasn t invented by balinese…

  • Sebastian
  • Micheal

    Recycling is not the solution. People simply need to stop buying disposable plastics. Use a canvas bag to do your shopping. Don’t accept plastic bags and cups, straws, etc whenever they are offered. Demand a metal fork or spoon when someone offers a plastic one. I’ve lived here for 6 years and seen firsthand the addiction to plastic that people have here. Cities like Denpasar and Surabaya accumulate about 4 tons of plastic garbage throughout their cites every single day! The government has no proper waste removal system in place and all the garbage gets burned or dumped in rivers.

  • Green cycle

    One of my friends spent time in a SE Asian country, the culture in that country was just to toss your trash wherever you were (which is gross to me even if it’s biodegradable- I mean have a compost pike)- this is in their culture because everything used to be biodegradable prior to the intro of plastics for packaging. They know the trash is bad, but they don’t care, which is horrid. It’s the same with air pollution- however, now, some care because you can’t breathe properly in some countries.
    Also whoever posted about bringing a refillable ater bottle, the water is so polluted in Bali, it’s not safe to drink.
    I grew up in a city where recycling has always been stressed and including in classroom education- schools I’ve attended all have recycle bins next to garbage bins, the cities pick up recycling and have centers you can go to to recycle. However, friends I have met from more populated states/cities like Cali/LA didn’t have these same experiences. I think most people in the world need to change their rubbish habits- we have the technology to recycle plastics (including bags), glass, paper products, the paper/wax juice/milk cartons, steel/aluminum/tin, and etc. however these programs can also be expensive (non-self funding), which is part of why most other countries don’t care. The Bahamas also don’t recycle and have loads of waste- it’s gross.