This blog was written by Emily Ressia,  a recent participant on our Indonesia Living Oceans Trip. 

No matter where you look, there is plastic waste. Whether it’s lying on the ground, out in the open, or nestled within the undergrowth and between the branches of a bush, seemingly innocuous, waste is everywhere. And that is the issue- it’s everywhere! Whilst it may be less publicly visible in more developed countries like Australia than in less developed countries, there is no reprieve from the situation.

As the second largest plastics polluter of the Earth’s oceans, Indonesia’s plastic waste situation has gained increasing attention in global media in recent years. This came to a peak in March this year following the release of a video on social media, showing a diver swimming beneath what looks like a floating island of plastic waste in Nusa Penida.

From the 29th March to the 8th April, I travelled to Indonesia as an intern with CERES Global to learn about the plastic waste situation, and what is being done about it. Composed of a mix of students, CERES staff and individuals from the general public, we embarked on a holistic and eye-opening journey through Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands, immersing ourselves in the Indonesian culture whilst simultaneously exposing ourselves to the stark reality of a country with no formal waste management practices.

Bali

Our ten day trip began in Sanur, Bali. Following a hearty lunch on the beach (with nasi goreng for many) and an introduction to Muji and Iman, two Indonesian contacts from partner organisations who would join us on our journey through Bali and to Lombok, we split into two groups. One group was led by Abby Barrows, a marine biologist and micro-plastics researcher who joined us as an expert and facilitator. This group was responsible for tracking marine debris that they identified along the Sanur beach, using the marine debris tracking app Litterati. 

The other group, which I was part of, was led by Subik, a fellow Indonesian trip member and the Excursions Cultural Programs Coordinator at CERES. We travelled to the Suwung dump, which is Bali’s largest landfill site. Geoff Chambers, a journalist with the Daily Telegraph, describes the waste site as “mountains of rubbish [dominating] the landscape”.[1] I wouldn’t hesitate to agree with this statement! It seemed endless. There were mountains of rubbish running in every direction as far as the eye could see. We walked along the perimeter of the site, and I was shocked by the sheer volume of waste and by the lack of segregation. Organic waste, clothing, plastics, glass and recyclables were all mixed together and left to break down. There were clouds of birds flocking overhead and cows traversing through it.

It was very confronting. In Australia, we don’t have public access to our landfill sites and we aren’t privy to the waste management processes that take place. The fact that we had public access and could see just how much waste was being generated in Bali alone, with tourists having no small part to play, was horrifying. We heard that there were plans in place to transform part of the site into an “eco-park, while the rest of the site will be managed using sanitary landfill and a waste to energy plant”.[2] Waste to Energy (WtE) involves the conversion of waste through either “bio-chemical decomposition (methanisation) or thermo-chemical decomposition (combustion)”.[3] Chemical conversion of organic waste produces ‘biogas’, whilst thermal processing is used for solid waste and generates heat.[4] Both ‘biogas’ and generated heat can be converted into electricity.[5] When looking at the site it was hard to believe that the project was possible,  but apparently the work is already underway. Time will tell.

Later that day, we had the privilege to meet one of the co-founders of the non-government organisation (NGO) Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB). Sisters Isabel and Melati Wijsen, were ten and twelve years old when they started BBPB as an environmental initiative for young people to refuse plastic bag use in Indonesia, raise awareness about the effects of plastic waste on the environment and to put pressure on the government. Isabel and her mother shared information about the current waste challenges, whilst also telling us stories about the growth and impact of BBPB in Indonesia and internationally (ranging from island wide beach clean ups to the establishment of BBPB teams in over 14 countries).[1]  The work that Isabel and Melati have completed thus far is amazing, and I look forward to seeing what positive changes they bring in the future.

The Coral Triangle Centre (CTC) is a not for profit organisation located in Bali, though they also have international ties. The CTC is focused on marine conservation and the “sustainable management of marine and coastal resources across the Coral Triangle”.[2] We visited the CTC during our stay in Bali, where we learnt about the various educational programs they offer, as well as the different political networks that they have established and their conservation efforts. Our time with the CTC was amazing. We canoed through the Nusa Lembongan mangroves, planted mangrove seedlings and snorke