Bali’s Trash Tidal Wave: Forget cats and dogs, it’s raining trash

After six long months with barely a single drop of rain, Bali’s residents and expats alike were practically dancing in the streets several weeks ago when the first downpours of the wet season unleashed their wrath on the island’s dusty streets. But as refreshed as we are (read: less sweaty) thanks to this glorious, delicious rain, let’s not forget the ugly bi-product of the annual rainy season – the tidal waves of trash.

Each year as the rivers and waterways become flooded, the estimated 5000 tons of solid waste that is illegally dumped on the island each day in gullies, streams, rivers and estuaries, is flushed to the ocean contaminating water supplies and smothering Bali’s marine environment – not to mention those sandy white beaches.

Despite these tidal waves of trash consisting mostly of plastic bags, Pop Mie containers and every other non-biological material out there, Bali governor Made Mangku Pastika last year insisted that the mountains of manmade waste was simply a “natural phenomenon,” with no one to blame for the ever-increasing masses of plastic finding their way beside tourists’ sunbeds.


It’s ok, don’t worry about the piles of trash lining the beach. It’s just a ” yearly nature fhenomena.”/Photo posted on Bali Expats Facebook page

With little to no improvements in proper waste disposal on the island, paired with the increased population of both locals and tourists, this year’s trash season is predicted to be the worst Bali has ever seen. We spoke to Matthew Robinson from the Rivers, Oceans, Lands & Ecology (R.O.L.E.) Foundation to get a better idea of this totally rubbish outlook.

“The trash problem is getting so bad in Bali that rubbish from Indonesia is beginning to land on Australian beaches. And this waste crisis is only getting worse. Bali has more than four million residents, three million Javanese migrants and over 10 million international tourists visiting each year, with a very bad waste management system in place that simply can’t handle the increasing garbage disposal.”

One message that the R.O.L.E. Foundation is trying to get out there is: “Bali depends on tourism, and tourism depends on a clean Bali” – a solid statement that rang true following the tourist outcry and media frenzy that shadowed last year’s “trash tsunami”.

The Huffington Post published a hard-hitting blog explaining “Why You Should Take Bali Off Your Bucket List,” describing Kuta Beach as “the filthiest place we have seen anywhere.” Not quite the paradise island that Bali’s tourists are promised. “The beach was littered with so many plastic trash containers that, in some places, they outnumbered the sand.”


Paradise Lost? Kuta’s “trashy” coast/Photo by Louise Newsham

Even long term Bali residents are shocked by the magnitude of the trash disaster, which hits the eastern and southern coasts the hardest. “The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented,” said Jason Childs, who has been living on the island for 20 years. “The scariest part is that it’s getting worse every year,” the SURFER magazine photographer said.

The future for Bali’s natural environment is looking pretty dismal and this year could be off the charts, but there are a number of campaigns, organizations and local communities out there working hard to protect the island, and there are a few things that we as responsible residents and tourists can do to help too.

“As consumers, the best way for us to minimize the increasing waste problem is to stop it at the source,” says Matthew. “Avoid items that use more than one wrapper, refuse plastic bags at supermarkets and try to use recyclable goods wherever possible. At the very least, reuse your plastic bags. It’s simple things like this that will start to make a real difference, whilst at the same time, we at R.O.L.E. are integrating educational programs into schools and local communities. Education really is the key.”

We’ll just have to wait and see what the Governor has to say this year about the inevitable trash tidal wave, so in the meantime, we’re hitting the beach in between showers, hopefully sans the plastic bags for swim caps.

Photo at the top taken in Nusa Dua by Louise Newsham

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