The Plastic Problem

Bali surfers seek to ban plastic bags across the province

Bede Durbidge gets barreled in Indo under the shade of rubbish. The problem of garbage in the water is specifically concentrated in Bali due to its booming tourism industry.
Bede Durbidge gets barreled in Indo under the shade of rubbish. The problem of garbage in the water is specifically concentrated in Bali due to its booming tourism industry. Photo: Noyle

It’s wet season in Bali, when the rains rinse the paradise island of its garbage, pushing it all out to sea. But then the onshore winds turn on and bring tons of trash back to the shore. It’s a cyclical event on the island, but today surfers and locals are saying it’s the worst it’s ever been.

“The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented,” says SURFER photographer Jason Childs, who has lived in Bali for 20 years. “The scariest part is that it’s getting worse every year.”

The massive amount of detritus spans the island’s busiest beaches, including Ulus, Kuta, Semiyak, and Canggu. The waste is a mix of local trash and the refuse generated by Bali’s rapidly growing tourism industry. Over three million people visited Indonesia’s smallest province last year alone, up by more than 11 percent from the previous year. The island’s refuse collection and disposal services are not able to keep up with the volume of waste, so the debris is illegally dumped or pushed offsite. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. It all resurfaces on the sand all of those tourists come to enjoy.

Bali’s governor, I Made Mangku Pastika, brushed the issue off as a “natural phenomenon” since it happens every year. “This problem is not anyone’s fault, but is due to a natural phenomenon that routinely occurs,” he said recently, urging the hotels and restaurants to be more involved in the disposal and cleanups. Pastika is right not to point the finger at any single group, but his response is no more than a band-aid approach.

Young Balinese surfer Sonny Perrussel and his friends are calling for a more permanent solution. “It’s just disgusting and really sad,” Perrussel said. “It’s really bad for surfing because it smells and your skin gets oily.” Sick of surfing in the foul water, they started an online petition to ban the use, sale, and production of plastic bags on the island of Bali. Luckily, Governor Pastika promised the boys that if they obtained one million signatures, he would honor their plea.

Word has gotten out, and the petition has gained more than 20,000 signatures in the last few days. Currently, it has just over 38,000 names, still far from the million needed.

“It’s a really big, crazy amount of signatures we have to get,” Perussel said. “It’s a big challenge, but if we do it, it would change our world.”

Though the polyurethane problem is rooted in the province’s outdated infrastructure, the ban would be a major step in the right direction. If you’re feeling inclined to help, add your signature to the petition.

Hardly the tropical Balinese paradise this surfer expected. Photo: Childs
Hardly the tropical Balinese paradise this surfer expected. Photo: Childs
Refuse piles high after having been washed out by the monsoon rains and brought back on land by onshore winds. Photo: Childs
Refuse piles high after having been washed out by the monsoon rains and brought back by onshore winds. Photo: Childs
Bulldozers clean the beach, but it's only a band-aid solution. Hopefully, a successful plastic bag ban makes a permanent difference. Photo: Childs
Bulldozers clean the beach, but only temporarily. Hopefully, a successful plastic bag ban makes a permanent difference. Photo: Childs