Bali’s Battle Against Plastic – Change Makers Protecting Water Resources

Posted: 29 May 2023
Discussing environmental issues: Sungai Watch Co-Founder Gary Bencheghib (from left to right), Coral Triangle Center Founder and Director Rili Djohani, and moderator Bagus Ari Saputra from Ubud Book Club engage in a conversation about the complexity of water resource pollution in Bali. (UWRF/Yogi Pradana)

According to a 2021 World Bank report, over 7.8 million tons of plastic are produced in Indonesia annually, making it the second-largest plastic waste producer after China. Approximately 83 percent of the yearly inland plastic debris seeps into the marine environment through rivers.

Bali, known for its beautiful and pristine beaches, is also affected by this problem. A 2019 study by Bali Partnership revealed that Bali generates over 33,000 tons of plastic waste per year. Unfortunately, only four percent of this waste is recycled due to insufficient waste management and recycling infrastructure, as well as illegal landfill operations. The ecological consequences of marine plastic debris include biodiversity loss and various diseases caused by the ingestion of microplastics.

Fortunately, the residents of Bali are not idly watching the island’s trash problem escalate. One notable individual is Gary Benchegib, the Co-Founder of Sungai Watch. He mentioned that he has witnessed an increase in river and beach cleanup activities in Bali since a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sungai Watch has a network of over 300 volunteers who regularly clean up rivers and install trash barriers. How did this movement become so effective?

“We employ creative methods to educate the public about this issue, such as using documentary films and videos posted on social media,” said Benchegib, who has a background in filmmaking. This was stated during the Change Maker: A Night of Inspiring Conversation talk show organized by the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, focusing on impactful social activism in Bali.

“Through these visual contents, we show people the other side of Bali and make them question: ‘Is Bali the island of the Gods, or is it the island of trash?’ Hopefully, after they start questioning and contemplating this issue, they will be motivated to take action to solve the island’s trash problem.”

The social media campaigns have proven successful. “We also connect with other cleanup communities in Bali through social media and share pictures of our activities online,” he added.

Addressing Bali’s rivers: Sungai Watch, led by Gary Bencheghib, mobilizes a team of over 300 volunteers dedicated to river cleanup activities and the installation of river barriers in 180 rivers across Bali. (UWRF/Yogi Pradana)

Sungai Watch chose to focus on rivers because they serve as the connection point between Bali’s inland trash and the ocean. Bali has over 390 rivers, and the team of volunteers has successfully installed trash barriers in 180 of them, collecting 2,000 kg of plastic trash daily. The collected plastic waste is then sent to recycling centers in Bali.

“We need to change people’s mindset about plastic waste. We have to create a campaign that makes them realize the value of plastic waste because it can be recycled and transformed into various valuable products,” Benchegib emphasized.

Another speaker at the event, Rili Djohani, the Founder and Director of the Coral Triangle Centre (CTC), stated that addressing marine plastic waste requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders due to its complexity.

The CTC, based in Bali, aims to conserve marine biodiversity across the Coral Triangle and create protected coral reef ecosystems, sustainable livelihoods, and food security. The organization actively supports conservation activities in Nusa Penida, Banda Islands, and Atauro in Timor-Leste. They are also developing an integrated learning center for training programs, regional learning networks, and educational activities.

“In all our activities, we engage with local communities and the government to discuss water ecosystem issues and develop solutions. These communities also utilize apps to report sightings of endangered species on Google,” Djohani explained.

To maximize outreach, the CTC established the Coral Triangle Marine Protected Areas (MPA) learning network, enabling people working on marine ecosystem protection in remote areas to connect and share best practices during regular meetings.

Advocating science-based activism: Rili Djohani, Dounder and Director of the Coral Triangle Center, elaborates on how her organization combines science, technology, and stakeholder engagement to safeguard the marine ecosystem and its biodiversity. (UWRF/Yogi Pradana)

To help the public understand the complexity of marine ecosystem protection and inspire them to solve the problem, the CTC has created participatory learning activities at its Sanur office. One example is the Escape Room, where visitors can play immersive games that require them to make complex, strategic decisions to save ocean biodiversity from plastic waste.

Both speakers emphasized the importance of lobbying the government to implement stronger, action-oriented policies that enhance the effectiveness of waste management and recycling initiatives in Indonesia, including Bali. This aspect has become even more critical after the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its 2021 assessment, projecting a sharp increase in plastic pollution in oceans and other water bodies, potentially doubling by 2030.

Switzerland serves as an example of how robust government policies can bolster the effectiveness of plastic waste recycling programs. The country has made it mandatory for companies to recycle their waste, including plastic, resulting in a recycling rate of 50 percent, with the remaining waste utilized for bioenergy production.

With more initiatives involving relevant stakeholders, Indonesia has the potential to establish a proper waste management and recycling infrastructure that will safeguard its water resources and ecosystems, particularly from plastic waste.

If you want to learn more about the change makers and their efforts in Bali’s battle against plastic and their commitment to keeping the oceans clean, we encourage you to explore the following resources: