The environmental landscape in Bali, both physically and politically, has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. The widespread environmental problems are no secret to those who have visited its unique shores. Locals and visitors see the rubbish piling up in the streets, on beaches and riverbanks; they wade through it in the canals and swim surrounded by it in the ocean. It can be smelled burning all over the island, in remote and urban areas alike. Landfill sites are over capacity and Indonesia is the second largest contributor of plastic pollution in the oceans (Jambeck et al. 2015; Herder & Larsson 2012).
I saw the most potential in environmental education and combatting harmful waste disposal behaviours. The organisation that hosted my placement, Bottle for Botol, delivers environmental education to schools in Indonesia and Australia, focusing on the production of — and harms associated with — plastic, particularly in relation to waterways and the ocean. They provide student-designed, BPA-free stainless steel bottles to students as an alternative to single-use plastic water cups and bottles.
While the day-to-day work of the placement focused on human resources, organisational management and building a policy and process base, I was lucky enough to visit schools in Canggu, Kuta, Denpasar, Mendoyo, Lembongan and Ceningan. I attended a bottle design competition, bottle deliveries, end-of-program celebrations and teachers’ workshops. My frustration with what can seem a dire environmental situation was crushing at times. Witnessing the students’ enthusiasm and joy, watching school staff as they connected the dots between rubbish on riverbanks and toxicity in the fish they ate, was the jolt of positivity I needed when the realities of work became monotonous. Seeing Balinese children sing songs about what they had learned, thanking their Australian partner school for their bottles, and observing students and teachers proudly carrying their well-used bottles, gave me hope.
Bali is more than its impressive biodiversity, more than the kind, respectful, proud local people, more than its complex history and intrinsic traditions. It is much more than the sum of its parts: a place on earth like no other that must be protected. At its aching heart are the plants, animals, waterways, and the sea. The natural environment has shaped the culture, history and landscape, and Bali’s people will ultimately define its future. Being given the opportunity to witness local Balinese who are passionate and excited about environmental sustainability has given me hope that Bali’s environmental future will be pursued with capacity, power and promise. And what is a more powerful lesson than hope?
Herder, K & Larsson, K 2012, ‘The growing piles of waste on Bali: a problem or an opportunity to make money?’, Bachelor of Environmental Social Science thesis, University of Gothenburg, viewed 11 November 2016, https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/29586/1/gupea_2077_29586_1.pdf
Jambeck, J, Geyer, R, Wilcox, C, Siegler, T.R, Perryman, M, Andrady, A, Narayan, R & Law, K.L 2015, ‘Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean’, Science, vol. 347, iss. 6223, pp. 768-771.