He’s walking around on the beach, looking down. It’s dark. What is he doing, I think to myself. He bends down, rests his elbows on his knees, and picks up a crushed, sandy plastic bottle. Brushing the black sand off his hands and onto his cream cargo shorts, he walks up to the bar. We’re perched on the bench, nursing our cold beers. Claiming the only other table in the bar, he sits down and smiles at us, behind his beard.
“It’s good you girls aren’t drinking with straws,” he says to us in his Aussie accent. “Girls drink beer with straws?” I question, laughing. “Yeah, they do,” he replies.
“This bar is great. They’re one of the very few places that clean up on the beach. Have you seen all of the rubbish on the beach?” he asks.
“Yeah, we went for a walk the other morning and there was literally a line of colour stretching up the coast from all the rubbish,” we add.
“It’s a real problem and an issue that affects us all. Plastic is causing our oceans to die. And everything we eat from the ocean is contaminated with plastic. Women can only get rid of plastic in their bodies by giving birth, which causes defects in babies,” he says, before introducing himself as Jason.
You know those intense conversations you have with someone before even knowing their name? This is one of them. Jason continues to talk about the plastic issue and the work he’s done in his battle against human pollution. He tells us about his initiative, B Alternative.
“B Alternative aims to cultivate awareness of environmental issues and to provide low impact alternatives to individuals, businesses and groups. We’re a part of the global community of environment champions based in Australia.”
“We’re aiming to facilitate a cultural shift in attitudes and behaviour to low impact living. Treating the planet, and hence ourselves, with love and consciousness.”
“Essentially, I want to raise awareness on plastic pollution and introduce socio-economic transitions to reduce plastic pollution,” Jason shares, as he plays with his colourful woven cotton bracelet.
“I never thought I’d get into this, but once I heard the extent of damage, I couldn’t turn a blind eye,” Jason shares, in a bittersweet tone. And in this moment, I get it too. Rubbish is one of those things I’m not confronted with every day. Adelaide, my home city, is the second cleanest city in the world. I guess I took this for granted until I came to live here in Bali.
Indonesia, Bali specifically, is drowning in rubbish. The population is already large and it’s increasing – and waste management practices lag far behind waste production. Most of the rubbish gets illegally dumped on vacant land or into rivers or beaches. Rapid economic development driven by tourism a major cause of these problems. Take our street for example.
When we first arrived three months ago, Pantai Berawa was a quiet street. Now, there’s a big beach bar on one end and a new Samsung store on the other. Locals don’t visit these places. It’s the tourists. Sure, the rice fields still colour my vision as I walk down to my local café, but for how long?
Thousands of tourists. Thousands of hotels. Thousands of cabs. We’re just having fun. We’re here for a little while, then we’re gone. But this is their home.
Tourists buy a lot of consumer goods, many of them packaged. And the expansion of the industry is nurturing the growth of a new middle class with international-style consumption tastes and habits. But tourism is also part of the solution. Westerners also have a heightened awareness of the polluting potential of waste and stimulated search for solutions, just like Jason does.
Many expats and locals are linking forces to fix the problem. Local groups are forming to tackle this issue and keep the beaches clean. On August 7th, local co-working space Dojo is hosting a Beach Clean Up Day. They’ve seen their beaches crammed with bottles, bags, lighters and other kinds of plastic. Supporting the beach cleaning initiative, Trash Hero Canggu, who run clean-up events every Sunday, for people to lend a helping hand.
Bali is my home now. And every time I see a pile of rubbish sitting next to a beautiful group of fallen frangipanis, my heart breaks a little. Each time it rains, I see the stream of rubbish in the gutter get pushed down the street – and into the ocean. Every time I buy a bottle of water, I’m reminded of my responsibility.
It’s a big challenge, but if we all do our part, we can make a difference. Get your hands dirty, to keep our world clean.
Check out the Bali Beach Clean Up Community Berawa Canggu Facebook page.
Read more about Jason’s initiative, B Alternative.