A Balinese green group steps up efforts to clean up the environment through education about the perils of the overuse of plastic bags. Can a surfing championship have an impact?
Sixteen of Bali’s best surfers battled it out in a charity surf contest on 9 April 2017 at Pantai Berawa, a popular beach directly in front of Finns Beach Club in Canggu, Bali.
The Keep Bali Clean Loko Challenge got underway at 4 pm and continued until after the sun sets. Lighting along the beach in front of the club makes surfing after dark possible.
The competition is in support of the 2017 Keep Bali Clean campaign, which is aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags on the Island of the Gods.
The average shop in Bali hands out between 100 and 150 plastic bags per day. Not only does this cost the shop owner money, eating away at profits.
Many of these plastic bags end up in rivers and streams and are eventually washed out into the sea.
Not only that. Many of the bags are dumped into land fills. And some of the bags are burned, which releases toxins such as dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the air.
There toxins are not only very harmful for the environment. They are hazardous to human health, having been linked to the development of cancer in humans. They are also harmful to animals when they are ingested.
Is Bali facing an environmental disaster? Plastic bags were introduced into the islands way of life less than three decades ago.
Over the last 30 or so years, the Balinese economy has evolved from one that was based primarily on agriculture and fishing to one that is based mostly on tourism.
More and more people are working at restaurants and hotels rather than tilling the fields.
Before the introduction of plastic bags, shoppers would bring along woven bags when they went shopping, but few people do that today.
They make a quick stop at the supermarket on their ways home from work. And their purchases are put in plastic bags rather than the woven bags that were used by their parents and their grandparents.
Bali’s population is estimated at between four and five million people. If each person receives two plastic bags from a shop a day, that works out to close to 3,600 plastic bags per person per annum!
Green group Keep Bali Clean has launched a campaign to boost environmental awareness across the island.
Included is the scheme is an anti-littering campaign, which is aired on local TV station DEWATA.
With commercials running four times daily, the campaign has been funded through the sale of T-shirts and donations from environmentally aware individuals and businesses.
Consumers are also being encouraged to use shopping bags that can be recycled. Through donations, 30,000 reusable bags have been distributed to consumers across the island.
Schoolchildren are also being targeted. In a bid to catch them when they are young, two full time staff have been employed to boost environmental awareness at Balinese primary schools.
Hotel Star System
From encouraging hotel guests to reuse their towels and not change their sheets to growing their own herbs and vegetables, an increasing number of hotels are making a commitment to environmentally friendly practices.
A Keep Bali Clean Star System is being introduced to the hospitality industry in Bali to encourage green efforts at hotels and resorts throughout the island.
Under the scheme, hotels and resorts will receive stars based on their efforts to reduce waste and lessen pollution.
A pilot programme is being launched in Canggu Village, where Finns Beach Club is located.
Compost bins and a subsidized rubbish collection programme are included in the scheme. If the innovative practice is successful, it will likely be extended to other parts of the island.
Plastic Bags 101
So what was the attraction of plastic bags in the first place? And why have they replaced paper bags, which were the norm in most parts of the developed world until the 1970s or 80s?
According to the American Plastics Council, plastic bags are extremely cheap to produce, sturdy, plentiful, and easy to carry.
Laurie Kusek, a spokeswoman for the council, says that plastic bags are “some of the most reused items around the house”.
"Many, many bags are reused as book and lunch bags as kids head off to school, as trash can liners, and to pick up Fido's droppings off the lawn," Laurie says.
But not all plastic bags are reused. And not all of them end up in land fills. Many, many, many plastic bags litter the streets, flutter in the breeze, get stuck in trees, clog drains, pollute the seas - the list goes on.
According to David Barnes, a marine scientist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England, plastic bags floating in the sea can seriously endanger wildlife, choking, strangling, and starving them to death.
Worst of all, it can take hundreds of years for plastic bags to decompose. And as they do, they release tiny toxins into the soil.
Is this the legacy we want to leave our grandchildren? But not everyone agrees, and plastic bags do have their fans.
The Film and Bag Federation maintains that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than paper bags, consuming 40% less energy to produce and generating 80% less solid waste.
They also produce 70% fewer atmospheric emissions and release up to 94% less waterborne waste.
But isn't there a third option? Is it really just about plastic or paper?
Hong Kong Experience
According to a survey by the Hong Kong government’s Environmental Protection Department, which was published in 2005, eight billion plastic shopping bags were being disposed of in the city every year.
This worked out to three plastic bags per person per day.
I remember that era well. There seemed to be plastic bags all over the place. You got one everywhere you went.
What I found especially infuriating at the time was that most supermarkets in Hong Kong would not put all of your groceries into one or two large plastic bags but rather into three or four small plastic bags.
These small bags were not only very difficult to carry, they also had little recycling value.
They weren’t large enough, for example, to line wastepaper baskets or serve other useful purposes.
Newspaper vendors had even taken to handing you your newspaper in a plastic bag. The practice started on rainy days, which seemed to make sense because it kept your newspaper from getting wet.
But wrapping your newspaper in a plastic bag soon became a daily practice.
Mine invariably ended up in the nearest rubbish bin. I found those plastic wrappers to be a complete and total nuisance.
Plastic Shopping Bag Levy
Targeted at supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, and cosmetics stores, a Plastic Shopping Bag levy scheme was implemented by the government in Hong Kong on 7 July 2009.
Under the scheme, consumers were charged 50 Hong Kong cents for plastic bags. Three types of products were exempted, including certain foods, such as frozen foods, which were excluded for hygiene reasons.
Unfortunately, the plastic bags were so thin they had zero effect on insulation.
“Landfill disposal of PSBs distributed by the regulated retail categories recorded significant decrease in mid-2010 after one year of operation of the PSB Levy Scheme,” the department says.
The scheme was extended in 2015, but details as to its effectiveness are hard to find.
I do remember reading somewhere that many consumers who had been accustomed to recycling the plastic bags that had been given to them had started simply buying plastic bags.
They had to dispose of their garbage in something.
Common Sense Solution
The solution to the problem seems relatively simple. Consumers should be encouraged to carry reusable shopping bags when they go shopping.
In my case, I always carry a soft-sided bag, in which I tote reading material and my gym clothes. Should I stop at the market on my way home, I stuff my purchases inside.
If I know when I leave home that I am going to stop at the market, I make sure to carry an insulated bag.
As an added advantage, my purchases don’t spill out onto the mini-bus floor the way they often did when small plastic bags were the norm.
The Keep Bali Clean Loko Challenge is sponsored by Loko Bali, which sells swimwear, surfboards, and surfer supplies, and Finns Beach Club.
Finns Beach Club is a sort of country club on the beach. Open from morning until midnight, the club has single and double day beds, hammocks, umbrellas, two swimming pools, and changing rooms.
There are six bars, a spa, and an all-day dining restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are facilities for bocce and volleyball. Lighting along the beach facilitates surfing after dark.
There is no charge for entry to the club, but a minimum spend is required for the use of day beds.
Finns Beach Club is located on Pantai Berwana, a 10-minute drive from Seminyak.
The following sources were consulted in the preparation of this post:
“Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment,” John Roach, September 2, 2003, National Geographic.
“Environmental Levy Scheme of Plastic Bags,” Environmental Protection Department, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
“Everything you need to know about Hong Kong’s new 50 cent plastic bag charge,” Ernest Kao, 31 March 2015, South China Morning Post.
“Half of Hong Kong retailers flout plastic bag levy in investigation by green group,” Ernest Kao, 15 July 2016, South China Morning Post.
“A plastic shopping bag tax: One way to tackle waste,” Dyah Paramita, 20 February 2016, The Jakarta Post.