Trash Island - Bali's Dirty Little Secret

The tropical island of Bali is drowning in a sea of plastic rubbish and no one is doing a dammed thing about it!

It's not a statement that's going to win me any friends, but it had to be said. And I, for one, feel better for saying it. The more people that know, the better. Somone much smarter than me just might have a solution.

Bali, Indonesia, jungle, palm trees, tropical

Deep beneath the jungle canopy lies and inland sea of disgarded plastic bags and bottles that will eventually make their way to the sea.


Bali, Indonesia, plastic, rubbish, pollution

 80% of the plastic waste in the ocean is gnerated on land.

Bali, Indonesia, plastic, pollution, rubbish, environment,

 Plastic bags, hundreds of them, litter the ground in small, remote mountain villages. They all eventually make their way to the sea.

While every country has it’s own struggle with plastic waste, there is a concentrated effort on cleaning up Bali right now. As one of my favourite places in the world, I can’t tell you how much this pleases me. Having travelled extensively through Indonesia (Bali, Gili Islands, Lombok, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan) I can tell you that Bali has a serious problem with plastic pollution, pouring into the ocean and destroying the environment far and wide.


Bali, rubbish, plastic, plastic pollution,

A pile of little plastic water cups like the one's you get on an airplane. This rubbish isn't tourist driven. It's way up in high in a little mountain village. In their defence, there is no rubbish collection point.

Bali, Indonesia, tropical island, blue ocean,

Out of sight, out of mind. The rubbish starts high up in the mountains, far from the sea.

Bali, dirty water, polluted stream, pollution,

Not plastic, but this mountain stream, miles from the ocean, is running milky white with phosphates from villagers washing upstream. Phosphates make that make their way to the ocean will kill hard and soft coral and promote the growth of unsighltly algae.

Now, if you speak to locals and expats ‘in the know’ you will get a lecture about how the 3.4 million international tourists to Bali each year are to blame. I’ve been told by these folks how many little shampoo bottles and tubs of breakfast butter tourists go through, and how the tiny island can’t handle all the waste. However, as someone who spends way too much time underwater, I’m yet to see these empty shampoo bottles or hastily discarded butter containers in the sea. Instead, I’m finding plastic water bottles, plastic bags, chip packets and straws. And they are being dumped by locals, way up in the mountains, far from the ocean.   

Bali, mountain village, Balinese house,

When this is your house and all your effort goes into providing for your family, where the rubbish ends up isn't even a thought.

Bali, Indonesia, plastic fire, pollution, rubbish,  Burning rubbish is a common method (attempt) at disposal. When plastic is burned a cocktail of toxins are released and health risks created - among them increased cancer rates (generally lung, throat, prostate), mutations in the development of the male reproductive system, immune system malfunctions, reproductive/birth defects, kidney disease, and many respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis.

Balinese village, rubbish, pollution,

The rubbish might not be out of sight, but it is out of mind. Dogs, chickens and pigs can often be found scratching through the rubbish laying around the village.

The local people aren't entirely to blame. There is a lack of awareness and infrastructure, like garbage bins and transporters on the government's behalf. Much of the rubbish in more established areas ends up in poorly administered, sometimes illegal, landfills or the islands vital river systems, which then release it into the ocean. With only five legal rubbish dumps on the island, only about 25% of its waste is collected through official channels.

Bali, Indonesia, fishing village,

 Picture perfect...on the outside.

Bali, fishing boat, fishing village, traditional fishermen,

Bali is a tiny island surrounded by water. As such a large portion of the population rely on fishing for a living. Fisherman are now forced to go further and fish for longer than any other time in history in order to get a good catch. 

It’s no secret that the planet is drowning in plastic. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking this World Environment Day 2018, reinforced the warning that there would be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if the present trends continue. The ramifications of this are catastrophic on a global scale when you consider that 100 million tonnes of fish are taken from the sea each year to feed an 2.5 billion people!

Bali, plastic bag, plastic in ocean,

This was most likely filled with soft drink and ice at one time. Now it's as deadly to sea-life as it is to the undersea environment.

A carelessly discarded plastic bag will break down quickly in warm ocean currents and the process releases toxic chemicals that may be digested by fish and end up in the human food chain. Scientists have also found that tiny fragments of plastic sink to the bottom of the ocean, carpeting the sea-bed. The environmental and health impact of this is unknown.

Bali, Indonesia, fisherman, daughter, fish in a bucket,

 What does the future hold for the next generation in Bali. Hopefully they will grow up with an awareness for the environment.

Bali, Legian, Seminyak, beach rubbish,

The rubbish on the tourist beaches in Legian, Seminyak and Canguu stretches for miles.

All hope is not lost however. The Indonesian government is acutely aware of the impact marine pollution is having on tourism, especially in Bali. At the World Oceans Summit in March, the government pledged $US1 billion a year to reduce marine waste by 70 per cent by 2025. The race is on...

There is also a place here for private enterprise to contribute. India, for example, has developed ways to convert plastic waste to energy for both industrial and domesitc use. And a company in the UK has developed a way to make low weight, high density building materials from recycled plastic. 

Whatever the solution, the time to act is now. Hopefully it's not too late.


Posted By Nathan
As a government employee by day my job is to work within strict parameters and think ‘inside the square’. Photography is in stark contrast to this, requiring patience and creativity, something I have had to learn. A (very) late bloomer in the field of photography I envied the ease at which my wife could compose a photo; yet she struggled with camera settings, so I took over in order to document our travel adventures. Four years on I can’t believe people actually like my photos.

Updated : 23rd July 2021 | Words : 957 | Views : 3255 | Comments : 1

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