We are always happy when September rolls around and we get to partake in another World Clean Up Day!
Usually, September falls in the dry season. There isn’t as much rubbish floating through the ocean, with little rain. The beaches are cleaner now that there is sadly very little tourism visiting the island.
So we decided to head towards the island dump. Where all the rubbish that Gili Trawangan creates, ends up. But, some of the trash doesn’t spend its eternal wasted life there. September is also characteristic for high southerly winds. Pulling across the island, and picking up hundreds of thousands of soft, light plastics from the dump and back into the environment.
Our projected site for World Clean Up day was a rainbow of colourful bags and plastic polluting some of the most picturesque coconut plantations of Gili Trawangan.
What did we target?
Our mission was to pick up as many plastic bags and wrappers as we could in one hour. We were lucky! A whole big crew of Gili Islanders who are also sick of seeing plastics in the environment turned out to help! We had more than 40 eco-warriors working hard picking up plastic bags, wrappers, sachets. Anything light enough to fly away from the dump.
But…. Aren’t you just going to take it straight back to the dump?
More than 60% of the rubbish that is taken to the dump, could have an alternative ending. Recycling, repurposing, composting, to name a few. Luckily in recent years, we have found facilities across Indonesia that will even accept certain plastic bags for recycling. Mainly clear, transparent or opaque plastic bags. This means that even the thousands of bags that littered the forest could be sorted and potentially separated!
Unfortunately, coloured, and black plastic bags still cannot be recycled. This is down to their production; Adding colour into the plastics makes them very hard to recycle. What we have noticed over the last 3 years, is that many of the warungs and shops that still use overwhelming numbers of plastic bags – have mainly switched to these opaque and clear bags. Education is slowly showing progress. The rainbow of colour is a little less… and we can ensure that even more of this plastic doesn’t end up back on the dump.
As for the unrecyclable bags found, coloured, with print on, or black, they all ended up tightly sealed in large refuse sacks. A life degrading in the dump isn’t ideal, but it’s better than its current alternative. They won’t be able to escape again.
Why are plastic bags so bad?
It’s no new news that plastic bags are bad for us, our health, the environment and the planet. But here are some of our main pet plastic-peeves:
1. Every bit of plastic you have ever used will outlive you.
Plastics don’t break down as organic waste does. It actually breaks up. Up into thousands of tiny little pieces, which will again eventually break up into microplastics. They are highly probable to get into our food chain. It has been said to take up to 2,000 years to degrade fully into these tiny pieces. But it hasn’t even been around for a fraction of that time. Sadly this could be a huge underestimation.
2. Plastic kills thousands of animals every year
More than one hundred thousand animals every year die from plastics. Whether they get entangled and suffocate in ropes, old plastic fishing nets and lines, or sea birds that find plastic floating in the ocean and take them home and feed them to chicks, or sea turtles that mistakenly eat a plastic bag that looks identical to a jellyfish. Even land animals like the beautiful dump cows and chickens that eat polystyrene boxes. Animals all over the world are suffering from our addiction to single-use plastics.
3. Plastic is made from petroleum fossil fuels
Up to 100million barrels of oil are destined directly for the production of single-use plastic bags. How can we use such a finite resource to create something invincible yet disposable?
4. Greenwashed bioplastics, don’t be fooled!
Oxo-biodegradable is a new-ish type of plastic that comes with additional chemicals built-in, to break up plastics into microplastics at a rapid rate. Usually taking up to 2,000 years, this process can be sped up to a matter of months.
It was estimated that 125 trillion of microplastics fragments (smaller than 0.5mm in length) are in the ocean. This has since been suggested to be vastly underestimated. If countries allow greenwashed ‘eco’ plastic companies to roll out more oxy-biodegradable products, that number will increase rapidly.
PLA ‘bioplastics’ have risen in production, even in Indonesia, in the last few years. Although made from a cornstarch base (so not petroleum), it has similar durability to plastic. When omitted to the environment it acts exactly the same way. It doesn’t break down and remains polluting forests, beaches and the ocean.
The biggest problem is that they are advertised as compostable. Rarely adding that it’s only possible in commercial facilities (rather than in your home compost). The single-use, throwaway culture that we see today doesn’t have the resources to reclaim take-away products and send them for proper recycling. This deems them just as bad as plastics in the outcome of their life.
5. Comes with serious health risks
Ever wonder why there are so many more serious illnesses these days? Allergies, food intolerances and increased rates of cancers, learning difficulties, asthma and ulcers? Some of this is down to the packaging from the food we eat. Today, most of our food is heavily processed, packed up, heated in plastics; This has serious and seemingly indirect consequences to our health.
So… What can I do?
1. Say “Tidak, Terima Kasih!”
Whilst we cannot outright ‘ban’ plastic bags, we do encourage EVERYONE to politely decline the offer of a bag when you are shopping on Trawangan. Awareness is slow and with positive action and education in the local school, we hope plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past!
You can pick up an eco-friendly shopping tote from our Eco Shop! We sell Tasini’s that help clean up plastics as you use them! They are made from 2 recycled plastic bottles, and stuff into your favourite under the sea animal to clip to your bag to ensure you never forget.
3. Forget shopping trollies, we have baskets
You can also rent a bike with a basket, nothing more instagrammable than a basket full of plastic-free fruit, a big sun hat in the now-clean palm trees!
4. Get Grabby
Other than that, you are also equipped with hands for holding onto your snacks and local treats.
5. Take three for the sea
Pick up three pieces of trash, every time you go to the beach. Imagine, if everyone followed this little personal life rule, the beaches would be a much cleaner place!
We thank the more-than 40 volunteers who turned up to our World Clean Up day, Anna and the staff of Big Bubble for sponsoring beers at sunset afterwards and every one of the 20 million volunteers who helped clean up in this huge action day event!
Follow our progress on Instagram and Facebook, and we hope to see you at the next Debris Free Friday.