Who knows about Bali

Survive on the dream island of Bali : With garbage against the need

Countless white and black sacks are piled up in the shade under the canopy, all of them filled with rubbish. A group of young men have taken off their mouth and nose masks and are beaming into the cameras. Even a frail-looking old woman proudly holds up a filled bag.

The new project “Plastic Exchange Bali” - a kind of plastic exchange where plastic waste is exchanged for rice - arose out of the need of the Balinese. The international border closings in April plunged the Indonesian holiday island into a serious economic crisis.

Approximately 1.2 million Balinese work in tourism, more than half of the 4.2 million locals have a connection to the industry. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs during the corona crisis or are currently receiving no income.

Michele Yoga from the charitable organization Yayasan Team Action Amed has only been working for months on distributing food packages and helping where there is need. “A lot of the tourist areas have gone home to their villages, but because they don't know how to fish or run a farm, unemployment is high,” she says.

Her own work as a wedding planner also dried up during the pandemic, but her Australian employer still pays a few hours, thereby also supporting her charitable work for the community. Yoga reports of people who can no longer pay bills or can no longer meet loan payments. A 90-year-old blind man only ate sambal, the chilli sauce, and rice for weeks.

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Reacts to the crisis with creativity

At the same time, yoga refuses to describe the Balinese as “poor” or “suffering”. People reacted to the crisis with astonishing creativity, reports the Australian who lives in Amed, a fishing village in the east of the island near the Mount Agung volcano. She tells of a jewelry dealer who is now breeding fish and a journalist who has opened a food stand.

However, the plastic exchange is one of the most successful Balinese initiatives to date that has emerged from the corona-related collapse of tourism on the island. The idea came from Janur Yasa, a restaurant owner in Ubud, a place in inland Bali.

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The idea occurred to him to swap rice for plastic and to work together with the so-called "Banjars", a kind of neighborhood group. According to the local website “Threads of Life”, people from over 3,000 households in around 100 banjars collected 34 tons of plastic within three months and received rice in exchange. The concept worked so well that word of mouth spread like wildfire across the island.

Basically, Yasa instructs the individual neighborhood groups to first collect in the communities themselves, starting in their own houses and gardens. Only then should they look for plastic in the streets and finally at the river and in the surrounding area. His plastic wallet also picks up and recycles discarded fridges and other machinery. "If I had two million dollars, I could clean up all of Bali," says Yasa.

According to Mohamad Bijaksana Junerosano from the start-up Waste4Change, Indonesia generates 175,000 tons of waste every day, around 14 percent of which is plastic waste. 81 percent of the waste remains unsorted, as the expert said in an interview with the World Bank in 2019.

Perfect mechanism

This makes recycling more difficult and leads to plastic waste ending up in the earth or in the ocean. According to Janur Yasa, several million tons of plastic are also stored on the holiday paradise of Bali. But the Balinese hopes to have created the “perfect mechanism” with his plastic wallet to finally get the island clean again.

The plastic that the islanders hand in at Plastic Exchange Bali is still sorted in Bali. It is then transported to factories on the Indonesian island of Java for recycling. Old Tetra-Packs can be converted there into new insulation for roofs, for example.

In return for the collected plastic, the Balinese not only get rice, says Michele Yoga, who also supports the charitable project from her home village Amed. They are also "getting their dignity and pride back," she says.

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