It’s no surprise Bali is a contender for the world’s top tourist destination. It’s a surfer’s heaven; a paradise rich in natural beauty, inviting culture, and the kind of picturesque waves we gawk at in magazines. The influx of tourism, which goes back decades now, has brought economic prosperity and improved the Balinese standard of living in many ways. But the effects haven’t all been positive. The mass development of resorts and hotels far outpaced Bali’s infrastructure, and this has had unfortunate implications for the environment. Trash is heaped in the streets, incinerated, or dumped into rivers. Beaches that were once pristine are now choked with garbage.
Owen Dubeck, a surfer and student at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, was confronted with the harsh realities of environmental degradation when he worked at a production house in Bali one summer. He wanted to get to the root of these problems. “Bali is facing a whole range of issues because of overdevelopment,” he said. “What many people don’t know is that there’s a huge surplus of hotels. Despite being such a popular destination, 42% of the island’s hotel rooms go unfilled — this statistic still blows my mind. These same hotels are depleting the island of their forests and water supply.”
They’re also contributing to the trash problem. With no proper collection system, there’s nowhere for their waste to go. This leads to carelessness across the board. “I saw how little concern there was for the environment. I remember being at the top of the Uluwatu steps and seeing one of the parking ladies throw a plastic bottle behind her and into the forest. It landed in a massive pile of trash that had been collecting there for months. I was shocked again when I saw a guy on the ferry dump an entire trash bag into the ocean.”
Owen returned to Bali the next summer to make a film promoting environmental activism (and to get some more barrels). He saw that there was great potential for a solution. “There were so many issues, all with interesting stories, but I chose to focus on trash pollution and waste management because a strong movement could cause dramatic change in the short term.” In his film, A Trash Free Future, he speaks to some of the Balinese people working on solving this problem. They left him optimistic. “With an investment from the Balinese government on a proper waste management system, and enforced legislation forbidding hotels from polluting, Bali can become clean again,” he reported.
Mismanaged trash is a problem not just in Bali, but worldwide. When we discard waste, it’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to forget the uncomfortable reality of the massive patches of garbage accumulating in the ocean’s gyres. Imagine being surrounded by shreds of plastic, old tires, and styrofoam particles while you’re in the tube. This is already a reality in Bali and could become far more common if things don’t change. Awareness is the first step.