Living off the grid in Bali

by Anita

While the concept of living off the grid usually refers to living without the support of an electrical grid and other external infrastructure, to many it is about much more than installing solar panels and setting up a compost bin. Living off the grid is about having a conscious awareness of how we want to live on this planet—and the resources we give, the resources we take and the resources we share. Among other things, this involves continuously asking the question of whether our actions support our selected standards—for ourselves, others and the planet.

Patricia Miklautsch, the co-founder of the Bali Silent Retreat in Tabanan, is a huge advocate of self-sufficient living and respect for nature. And she says that the so called living off the grid is not about discussions over a coffee, or taking a weekend workshop, but about taking positive action. “Even if it’s planting a few raised-bed vegetables and installing some solar lanterns. Anything is a good start,” she says. “If you frequent specific food vendors or restaurants for take-out, let them keep your containers and swap them when they deliver. And buy locally grown produce. We have a saying, ‘When I’ve traveled half way around the planet, I’m pretty darn tired. And I bet quinoa is too.’”

Staying true to her roots — she was a proponent of sustainability when she lived in Colorado in the 70s — Patricia co-founded an off the grid retreat that can serve as an example to those wishing to make their lives more eco-friendly. “We use solar panels for our electricity, which we use sparingly — there is no air-conditioning, hair dryers or even electrical outlets in the rooms,” she says. “We have large solar panels on the roof that produce around 15 kilowatts of electricity, numerous smaller solar panels located around the four-hectare grounds, as well as solar flashlights and desk lamps that have to be recharged outside during the day. We have a PLN backup system, but we’ve never had to use it.”

The retreat has an 150-foot deep well that produces enough clean and clear water for the entire grounds. While Patricia says that the water is drinkable right out of the ground, it is put through a UV light system and a reverses osmosis system just to make absolutely sure it is fit for consumption. “Years ago when I lived in Ubud, I partnered with a fish tank shop owner to make a solar water distiller. It was easy to make and worked well. But all that glass is too dangerous with guests. I have now given it to a friend who offers permaculture classes,” she adds, highlighting that eco-friendly solutions are within everybody’s reach.

It is no secret that Bali is drowning in garbage, with waste products often ending up incinerated or in landfills. Unfortunately, a lot of it also gets illegally dumped in the ocean or on unoccupied land. Patricia has created her own recycling process, which begins with a ‘garbage-in, garbage-out’ policy, where if, for example, a tube of toothpaste is brought to the retreat, it needs to go back out, preferably to the home country of its origin, to be disposed of there. Other waste is collected by the staff at the retreat’s Garbage House, where it is sorted into plastic, glass, iron and wood, and passed on to recycling collectors. “The small amount that unfortunately can’t be recycled must be taken to the landfill. The landfill bin’s designation is Stupid Garbage,” Patricia says.

The retreat’s staff—all of whom are from the three local villages—the community and guests are also very much involved in Patricia’s off the grid project. The staff are not allowed to bring styrofoam or plastic bags to the grounds, and any vendors who deliver produce to the retreat are given reusable glass jars, jugs, boxes and bags. Plus, the guests are provided with bags made of newspaper for separating paper, plastic and landfill items. “We have also distributed 55-gallon drums throughout the local villages so that everybody has a place to put their garbage. Posted on the outside of these bins is an explanation on why and how to recycle, with a rather harsh description of the results of burning plastic,” Patricia says.

According to Patricia anybody can incorporate living off the grid principles into their daily lives if they make a conscious and deliberate decision to do so. “Why not ask yourself, ‘Do I really need a swimming pool, air conditioning, 100 watt bulbs, big screen TVs in every room, restaurant size kitchen equipment, or is that my ego wanting a snuggle?’,” she says. “Why not give our egos a snuggle by challenging our standards and changing our lifestyles to help the planet help itself, and help all of us sustain ourselves well into the future.”