Traveling to Bali? Consider Your Impact

Travel changes you in ways that you can't predict and indeed, I did not predict how my relationship to the world of plastic would change after spending 6 weeks in Bali....  

Snorkeling with plastic water bottles, straws, candy wrappers, plastic bags and much much more, cemented my commitment to avoiding plastic (and trash overall).  To see amazing coral reefs and stunning fish below you and then look ahead at the water level and see plastic debris all around is shocking, to say the least.

While staying in Bali and visiting the island of Nusa Lembongan, we had the privilege of attending talks held by the Marine Megafauna Foundation and were also lucky enough to catch a glimpse on a snorkel trip of the magnificient Manta Rays where the above video was filmed (the trash that day was not so horrendous, due to changes in currents).  They are studying these Manta Rays and trying to learn the impact that the exposure to plastics and microplastics has on these filter feeders.  I encourage you to check out their work!

Until this trip, I had not realized how isolated I was from reality.  Sure I knew that minimizing the waste that I and my family produced was important, but just how important, I had no idea.  Especially as travelers.  I’ve mentioned in other posts how many of us are so privileged to have our waste carted away for us week after week, but this has the unintentional effect of desensitizing us to all that is going on behind the scenes of that waste.   And we are also so fortunate to be able to assume the waste we produce, if we put it in the correct bin, will be disposed of properly. 

But what if you had to assume that every item that crossed your path could potentially find its way into the ocean?

This is the reality in Bali.  Where is our trash ending up? What percentage of the items I use while visiting this country will actually end up being properly recycled? How much will be burned and enter into the atmosphere?  How long will many of the items I throw away remain in existence or end up floating in our oceans?  

This beautiful island, which my husband and I experienced in a much more pristine condition 18 years ago, now seems to be on the precipice of destruction. I believe this to be true based on the rampant development and complete and total lack of infrastructure to support the 6 million tourists who visit every year.  Trash lies on every beach; the ocean in some of its main tourist centers appears so dirty that we avoided swimming there. Traffic congestion has taken over, waterways are filthy and the smell of raw sewage wafts through the air in some areas.

Yet despite all of this, the underlying beauty remains, both in its wonderful people who are incredibly welcoming, quick to laugh and always eager to offer a hand.   The culture draws you in with its peaceful ceremony, rich history and stunning art.  Wild landscapes and rice fields make for spectacular viewing. There are also many folks battling for Bali's future (see below for more info).  

But would I return?  I don't know.  I am concerned that my family's presence had a negative impact, even despite our efforts to lessen that impact, but it's complicated given that this island is so entirely dependent upon tourism.

What can you do if you are visiting Bali?

Do not turn a blind eye.  Do not allow yourself to be ignorant of your impact. Assume that when you are done with your plastic water bottle, it most likely will not be recycled or your straw will either exist in a landfill for hundreds of years, make its way into the ocean or be burned, none of which are sustainable options. This is the reality. 

Know that you have the most power to affect change on this little island. Where tourism accounts for 85% of Bali’s industry, if we tourists refuse plastic straws, say ‘no’ to plastic bags, bring our reusable water bottles and ask for refill stations, this will create change.  And we saw this change along the way. We found spots where bamboo straws were put to use or refill stations charged a small fee for refilling your reusable water bottle. So it’s happening, but for Bali’s sake, I think it needs to happen faster, and that’s where your conscientious choices come in.   

Say no to plastic bags:  “Tidek plastik”

Say no to plastic straws:  “Tidek sedotan”

Bring your tote.

Say no to plastic water bottles.

Refill your reusable water bottle (read here how to do this even when the tap water is unsafe for drinking)

Pick up a few pieces of trash every day.  

Tell business owners that you would like them to offer stations for refilling water bottles and to provide bamboo or stainless steel straws instead of plastic.  If enough customers ask…..they will make the change!

For more inspiration and information, check out this Ted Talk from two young sisters from The Green School who are working to ban plastic bags on Bali:

Visiting Bali and want to do even more?  Check out the Trash Hero Facebook group for the area you are visiting and attend a beach cleanup!  Or attend Green Camp to learn more about environmentalism and sustainability!

Any recent visitors to Bali?  What are your thoughts?  Planning travel there?  Any concerns?  Would love to hear from you!