• Emmy Ciabattoni

A Pedacito Of Beach Cleaning In Bali, Indonesia

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Bali’s trash problem is no secret. The words ‘Bali’ and ‘trash’ seem to go hand-in-hand; when travelers talk, it seems like one can’t be mentioned without the other, which is really unfortunate.


Everything else about Bali is so far from ‘trash’: the people are the kindest, the culture is beautiful and bright, the energy radiates thanks and appreciation, the nature is pristine, and the air is full of incense.

Bali's beaches look pristine until you look closer
Bali's beaches look pristine until you look closer

It sucks that trash is so closely tied to the idea of Bali, but the truth is, you can’t visit without experiencing it.


To be honest, I’m usually too overwhelmed in my daily life to make space for the news and otherworldly happenings. I’m too busy trying to create a safe, personal, live-able space for myself that becoming aware and taking on the world’s problems sounds daunting and hopeless, but I’m trying to be better.

There's still so much about Bali, Indonesia that I love
There's still so much about Bali, Indonesia that I love

While traveling, you completely open yourself up to that outside world. You have no choice. You're immersed in it. And although it's beautiful, you're forced to face bigger-wold challenges and problems. It's difficult to ignore them when they're right in front of you.


The first time I got really up close and personal with the trash problem, I was surfing at Old Man's in Canggu. I heard that the trash in the water was bad, but I thought, how bad could it be? I'd seen plastic wrappers floating in the water at home in SoCal, and it was sad but avoidable.


When I jumped in the water, my hands brushed objects—of different shapes, sizes, and textures—with every paddle. I had no clue what the things were, but I kept swimming. I denied it all. I thought that maybe, it was just seaweed.

Me, snorkeling in Bali's clear waters
Me, snorkeling in Bali's clear waters

Until I sat up on my board and my legs tangled in something, I was no longer able to stand it. My insides started shivering in disgust. I had to find out what was beneath me. I shoved my hand in the water and scooped out a matted, purple sweater.


How does this happen?!?! I couldn't fathom it. I couldn't surf. I couldn't ignore it any longer. I headed back to shore, but I was also unsure of what to do. Unsure of how to help.


It didn't even make sense to try to pick up the streets and beaches; garbage piles overflowed everywhere, it wasn't clear where the piles began and ended. I wouldn't even know where to put the trash.

A Christmas party with my friends in Bali
A Christmas party with my friends in Bali

But one morning, I saw an opportunity. It was Christmas morning, actually, and my friends and I woke up early to catch the sunrise. We sat on the beach in our Christmas stocking caps while the local workers picked up trash.


They had quite the job on their hands; the tide had washed all of the plastic and garbage up onto the sand, where the tourists would spend the majority of their time. We watched the local men hustling, hunched backs, trying to clean it all up before the tourists arrived for a day at the beach.


My friend Katherine sat up abruptly and said, "I'm helping." Without hesitation, I followed. And the rest of the group followed. We picked up trash for about two hours until the area was spotless.


We handed our black plastic garbage bags to the men, and they thanked us, hauling the bags back towards the treeline. They dumped the bags in large holes and buried them in the sand. WHAT THE !@#$.

Getting ready to clean Bali's beaches
Getting ready to clean Bali's beaches

I couldn't believe my eyes. The exact same problem would happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and it would only get worse. I felt hopeless, but I also became aware of a bigger problem.


It's not just about having the manpower to pick up beaches. It's also about having the funds to implement eco-friendly waste management systems and investing in sustainability research. I couldn't, and would never, blame the Balinese. They simply didn't have the resources necessary to take care of their environment.


Although the act of picking up trash felt hopeless, the Balinese had to do it; the more trash on the beaches, the fewer tourists. The fewer tourists, the less money. The less money, the fewer funds to implement a better waste management system. Contrary to popular belief, beach cleanups are more than a "bandaid remedy."

Walking through the Balinese rock formations
Walking through the Balinese rock formations

Through all of the ups and downs of my relationship with trashed beaches, I've learned one thing to be true; although I don't have tons of money to donate or invest, I can tackle the problem at the very root.


I can stop those plastic caps from washing up on shore by not buying them. I can stop the plastic bags from littering the treeline by opting out at the grocery. I can stop sweaters from floating around in the water by shopping and disposing of clothes responsibly. And how powerful is that?

I realized that keeping Bali's beaches clean means making better personal decisions at home
I realized that keeping Bali's beaches clean means making better personal decisions at home

Whether you're shouting from the rooftops, "I live sustainably!" or you lead quietly, through your actions and example, the change can take off and create a ripple effect, just like Katherine's decision to pitch in on the beach that day.


I think we'd all be surprised at the difference we can make.

 

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