Anna Sutanto and PlastikDetox Bali target the mundane – but important – environmental issue of plastic waste. The nature of the problem in Bali is a delicate one, but steps must be taken to improve the situation. PlastikDetox Bali is out to prove that things can be done to battle this growing problem. Our organisation, Koalisi Bali Bebas Sampah Plastik, meaning “Bali Free of Plastic Waste Coalition,” is a group of 4 individuals
Anna Sutanto and PlastikDetox Bali target the mundane – but important – environmental issue of plastic waste. The nature of the problem in Bali is a delicate one, but steps must be taken to improve the situation. PlastikDetox Bali is out to prove that things can be done to battle this growing problem.
Tell us a little about your organisation. What first interested you in this issue?
Our organisation, Koalisi Bali Bebas Sampah Plastik, meaning “Bali Free of Plastic Waste Coalition,” is a group of 4 individuals who are committed to reducing the shocking amount of plastic waste that litters Bali. It is unacceptable and saddening that such a beautiful island is being disfigured by mountains of plastic straws, bags, Styrofoam and the like.
The coalition started in 2010 as one of the working groups of the Bali Clean and Green Forum, which was spearheaded by the Governor. Our group focuses on waste prevention, as this is often overlooked — especially in Bali where proper waste management facilities are rarely affordable or available.
We started with the top consumer item — “single-use plastic bag”. People can help by bringing their own bag when they shop. Initially, we worked with the Bali Province to approach major retailers to urge their customers to bring their own bag when shopping, but despite support, retailers required a government policy to act on it.
While waiting for that to happen, we started PlastikDetox Bali in mid-2012 to reward small businesses for reducing their use of plastic. We now have 11 businesses enrolled: Warung Kecil, Café Batu Jimbar, Smorgas Café, Manik Organik, Tandjung Sari Restaurant, Peek-A-Boo Play Cafe, Monsieur Spoon Maya Café, Satvika Bhoga Organic Shop, Fair Trade Shop and Eco Laundry.
How bad are Bali’s environmental problems caused by plastic waste?
Whether it’s visible or not, there’s no escaping from plastic waste in Bali. Your street might be clean, but when you look under the bridge, in the ocean, it’s everywhere. Plastic pollutes the soil, the water, and even the air. The impact of plastic pollution visually and also in terms of health is inescapable — whether people dispose of plastic properly, throw it away illegally, bury it or burn it.
In recent years, environmental problems in Bali have made international headlines. This is a stain to the label “Paradise Island,” and a threat to those whose livelihoods depend on tourism. Nobody wants to visit a plastic-polluted beach or rice fields littered with wrappers.
True, plastic provides convenience. But how far can you go before it becomes an inconvenience? We are not opposed to plastic use, we just ask people to use plastic wisely.
What kind of support and benefits can businesses expect from participating in the program? Why is it important for them to be involved?
The core mechanism of PlastikDetox is to reward businesses that can effectively reduce their use of plastic. When a business owner agrees to joins PlastikDetox, we ask them stop giving away plastic bags or charge customers for their use. There are some additional criteria that vary depending on the type of the business. For example, a restaurant might want to apply a straw-by-request policy and a health food shop might choose to ask the supplier to use reusable mesh bags for delivery instead of single-use plastic bags. Every year, we evaluate the progress of each partner against their commitments and encourage them to go even further with their environment-friendly actions.
We provide training for the staff, educational materials, and where possible suggestions for alternative packaging. When a business can successfully demonstrate it is implementing its commitment, we also promote the business as a PlastikDetox Bali partner through Bali’s thriving media scene.
This program is a learning process “Let’s be fair — joining PlastikDetox is not just a matter of sticking our logo on a shop window. Staff must be briefed and trained, educational material must be prepared. Sometimes, there are hiccups along the way and in some cases, we have had to terminate the partnership when a partner was not following up on the agreed commitments. At the end of the day, we need to see results.
The future of Bali’s environment is also the future of their businesses. This year, business owners can turn a blind eye and say “Oh, I know Bali has a waste problem, but here, in my front yard, it’s not a problem.” Well, waste travels through rivers, polluting your vision, your air and your soil. Tourists want to go to a nice, friendly and clean island. Tourists certainly won’t come to Plastic Waste Paradise.
What are the main obstacles in running the campaign? Are you making significant impact?
We are aware that our campaign is a drop in the ocean. Reduction may seem like a drop in the ocean also, but we have records from Peek-A-Boo Play Cafe who were able to reduce 158 straws in a month, and Fair Trade Shop who reduced 41 plastic bags in a month. If you multiply those numbers to the number of business in Sanur and multiply them again by the number of months; you get quite a big figure.
If our approach was replicated on a larger scale, we could begin to see some neighborhoods becoming cleaner. Perhaps the largest impact we are making right now is to bring the realization to business owners that with a little effort, they can run a greener business without losing sales — and improving their reputation. This is priceless.
A major obstacle is the mentality of “waste is not my problem; it is the business owner/customer/government’s responsibility”. Although the Government is responsible for providing the facility, the people have a bigger role in prevention, separation and reuse–the major steps.
How can Bali’s visitors help to tackle the plastic waste problem?
Visitors can help using their own bag for shopping. Tell shopkeepers, waitresses and hotels that you don’t need plastic bags. If more tourists say no, business owners will be more motivated not to provide plastic bags for free or to use more eco-friendly packaging.
Also visit our PlastikDetox partners and tell the staff that you really appreciate their efforts.