Bali Students Think Waste Not

A group of high school students from Bali recently set out to clean up some local beaches. They came up with just as many questions as answers to Bali’s ongoing rubbish problem. By Kayti Denham.

One year ago, Gaia Discovery ran a story about a group of youths from Canggu Community School in Bali preparing to visit the vast Leuser Ecosystem tropical rainforest in the north of Sumatra, Indonesia. The trip, part of their entry requirements for the Creativity Action and Service Programme (CAS) induction, was not an easy one.

The students rated it a success nonetheless; all returned home challenged, changed and with many new experiences under their belts. Following the trip the students created their own CAS week practical task; one group opted to clean up their neighbourhood after storms and heavy rain had destroyed local huts and washed up mounds of garbage onto the beach. 

Rubbish picked up from the beach at Berawa, near Canggu, and bagged.

Rubbish picked up from the beach at Berawa, near Canggu, and bagged.

As the task unfolded, it became clear that the problem was more complex than a simple clean-up. At first it appeared relatively simple: ideally, people should clean up after themselves but they don’t. However, when part of the rubbish turned out to be waste from a religious ceremony, the students began to see the issue from another perspective.

Could they condemn all people who leave waste? On reflection they realised the issue of waste management was greater than they thought. Not only beaches where tourists are expected and catered to should be kept cleaner but that it was urgently necessary that the motivation to keep beaches clean was seen as not just financial but also aesthetic and environmental good practice.

Here are some extracts from the diaries they kept at the time.

Reflections on Waste

Teague: “Being the leader of a large group I understood that it was my job to initiate the activities and help everyone work collaboratively with each other. It was my duty to arrange places to meet, beaches to clean, and times to begin cleaning. As the days dragged on I began to see the group begin to tire and feel unmotivated. 

I had to develop new skills of guiding individuals. I realised that being the leader of a big group is very stressful and hard, especially if they are unmotivated. But I undertook this new challenge with glee as I knew this would make me a better individual and if I was able to strongly lead than I would be changing the environment in Bali and making an impact on not only the beaches but also every individual visiting the beach. We knew that to make this first beach clean up effective we had to have some sort of method to how we were going to clean up. We sorted out the garbage by plastics, cigarette butts, and drift wood.”

- Teague was nominated leader of a group, he had to learn to take responsibility not only for the activities but the motivation of the group. As leader he had to handle other issues like communication within the group and how to tackle the waste.

Delaney: “Washed up plastic bags, toothbrushes, old flip flops and other shoes, empty plastic and glass bottles - the sheer amount of rubbish that was on the beach is a reflection of the culture of Bali and also many of the tourists who visit. There is no regard for the environment which leads to many beaches being trashed. We decided, seeing how bad the problem was, to keep cleaning for the entire week. We began to ask: ‘Why does the beach have to be a business for people to not feel environmentally responsible to clean it up?’ We soon realised that because Berawa (beach) was attracting people it meant businesses on the beach felt an obligation to keep it clean. Then their customers would come back. This made many of us reflect and feel sad that there is no standard for how a beach should be kept, and little regard for the animals on it. This meant the popular beach we visited was kept very clean compared to the other (less busy) beach we visited that was not.” 

- Delaney was the only girl on the team, and described the way waste ended up on Bali’s tourist beaches.

Joe, Josh, Delaney and Pablo from Canggu Community School gathering rubbish. Plastic and naturally degrading driftwood mix together in an unattractive spill on the sand

Joe, Josh, Delaney and Pablo from Canggu Community School gathering rubbish. Plastic and naturally degrading driftwood mix together in an unattractive spill on the sand

Pablo: “We were eager to clean up and anticipated a large mess because on the previous day there was a festival held at the beach. As we arrived we saw the beach riddled with food waste and spiritual offerings and started by cleaning all the food wrappers and drink bottles without a problem. However, we were not allowed to clean up the offerings. We were told it is considered disrespectful to clean (them) up. This is a problem because taking away the offerings and making the environment a cleaner and healthier place, negates the spiritual effort placed by the locals. And in their eyes, the spiritual effort is far more important. This made me reflect on just how important culture is, because I’d just witnessed a case where the wellbeing of our planet was deemed less important than a spiritual festival. I understand that these ceremonies have meaning to the people, but have to ask if there is a way for these ceremonies to exist without damaging the environment. This moment was when I became aware that not everyone cares (the same way) to do what is necessary, and this allowed me to now understand that in life, I cannot expect people to help me when I need it. I will have to force the same dedication as I did on this week in order to push through and help myself.”

- Pablo another crew member recounted their experience working on beaches in more populated areas at Seminyak, known for classy restaurants and cafes and a large temple of Pettitenget.

Ransome hauling bags of washed up rubbish at the end of his first shift.

Ransome hauling bags of washed up rubbish at the end of his first shift.

As a result of their work both on the field trip and on the beach clean-ups, students learned that eco-awareness and eco-activism are not just labels, they are commitments that sometimes mean facing difficult situations. These can include coming up against strongly-held beliefs and lifestyles that seem at odds with ours, and working out how to breach the gaps that disengage people from their environment and from each other. 

To truly face the future, to create the environments that enhances life and reduce global hardship, poverty and disease means learning much more about humankind than about how to merely separate and manage waste. It requires education and understanding too.


Thoughts from the writer: As an educator who has worked with waste management issues and student involvement in change for over 12 years, I am faced with the cyclical nature of learning. How do we move beyond these nascent steps to create long-lasting changes in our communities? We empower kids by telling them it is their future and their planet - yet are we in danger ourselves of not seeing the most obvious solutions? 

-Kayti Denham is a Bali-based educator and activist who is passionate about the environment and the role young people can take in preserving it.