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With its stunning beaches, the Indonesian island of Bali attracts tourists from all over the world. But plastics are ruining the view, leading villagers to take action, from production to disposal.
The sun rises over the beach of Saba in Bali. Dozens of people have gathered wearing yellow t-shirts with the message “I’m a garbage hero.” In one hour, they have collected the equivalent of a garbage container. Through a megaphone, Wayan Akasar encourages and thanks the volunteers for their participation. Akasar is the president of Trash Hero Indonesia, a community group with 38 sections across the country, 14 of them in Bali.
A professional tourist guide, Akasar loves to show visitors from all over the world the impressive rice fields of Bali and the spectacular volcanic black sand beaches. But when they started complaining about the island’s waste problem, he felt compelled to take action.
Now he coordinates weekly cleaning events through social networks, in which volunteers have collected more than 15,000 kilos of plastic trash in a year.
Earlier this year, a video of a British diver navigating through a frightening soup of plastic bags and food wrappers off the coast of Bali went viral, prompting calls for action to deal with ocean pollution.
Indonesia is the second largest source of marine plastic waste in the world after China. The country used the staggering figure of almost ten billion plastic bags in 2016 alone. Many of them end up in rivers and the ocean, spoiling the idyllic views of the island. Seeing its tourism industry threatened, Indonesia undertook to reduce plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025.
Recycle, recycle and recycle
Akasar knows that his “garbage heroes” are just part of the solution: ideally, plastic waste will never reach the environment in the first place. “The most important thing is that we educate people about how to deal with their trash and not use plastic,” he says. “Step by step, we try to inspire people and hope they help keep Bali clean for the future.”
Once the work of the volunteers on the beach of Saba is finished, Akasar goes to see his friend Nyoman Adi Artana in his plastic waste plant, where a hydraulic press crushes 5,000 bottles and turns them into approximately 1 cubic meter that weighs up to 140 kilos. On an average day of work, three truckloads, about 1,600 kilograms, are processed and sent for recycling on merchandise trucks that would otherwise return empty to Java.
Each bale produces the plant around 4 dollars. “There’s not a lot of money to do this kind of thing, plastic is not a sexy business,” says Arti. All too often, people are seen throwing garbage into rivers or burning plastic on the side of the road. Nyoman Adi Artana wants to give a better example, getting more and more people to recycle plastics after using them.
And a company based in Bali is also collaborating, using bioplastics that could, with due development, satisfy a large part of the current demand for plastics. Bioplastics are biodegradable materials made from plants, such as algae and cassava, or from bacterial processes.
Avani Eco converts cassava, abundantly available in Indonesia, into plastic bags and straws, and converts sugarcane fiber into take-away containers. “Here in Indonesia, we harvest around 25.2 million pounds of cassava per year,” Kevin Kumala, co-founder of the company, told DW. “When it comes to the price of raw materials, cassava is the most economical product available in the country.”
Founded in 2014, Avani Eco now has 95 employees and 20 machines, which can produce 40 tons of cassava bags per month. Kumala is convinced that in dealing with his ocean pollution crisis, Bali will set a powerful example.
“We were lucky that those interested in us, who became our partners and distributors, visit the island and wish to invest in the company and take the technology to the places they come from,” says Kumala.
Stir up the market
The most distinctive items that come out of the Bali factory are the cassava bags “I’m Not Plastic”. They cost 50 percent more than normal plastic bags, but Avani is still in the early stages of increasing its production and expects prices to fall with increasing demand and production in large quantities.
“Due to the higher price of our products, the challenge is to convince customers like supermarkets and retail chains,” says Kumala.
But it is a challenge that your company is ready to accept: “We see ourselves as troublemakers in the market, being a troublemaker, you can not stay comfortable, we are researching and developing a lot every day, improving our product”.
“I think the use of plastic will drop to 70, even 80 percent within 10 years,” he adds. With the growing interest of the Middle East, the Caribbean and East Asia, Avani’s biggest challenge could one day be to keep pace with demand.