The Balinese Addiction to Water Wrapped in Plastic


By Vaughan Hatch



Perhaps the hottest topic in the media in Bali today is plastic waste: the beaches, rivers, rice fields, forests, mountains, parks, roadsides, soil, temples, banjar, public spaces, universities, schools, households, ceremonies, festivals, events, government offices – they’re all overflowing with it. This non-biodegrable, un-recycled, often unrecyclable toxic waste is mostly single-use plastic. “Toxic???” you squeal, “Surely not?”. Yes. Based on recent and ongoing scientific research, consuming anything in single-use plastic has a health risk associated with it: the most shocking (for those who read, care or who are even vaguely interested) results were about micro-plastics in “mineral water” (I use quotes because a lot of mineral water worldwide is in fact not mineral water, well not with any extra minerals added at any degree). These results were widely published, appeared on news networks worldwide, and were shared extensively on social media.

As usual, after the storm passed and people’s short memories regenerated new synapses, little is mentioned about it today – in fact, if anything, consumption worldwide particularly in developing countries of water sold in single-use plastic is on an exponential rise. Great for these water companies that are not only raping the world’s finite water resources, but who are also contributing significantly to global climate change due to the transportation required to access, distribute, filter, package and recycle (if it ever happens) the water and the packaging. Not to mention the water wasted when packaged water is only partly consumed and then discarded.

Today we have a nation addicted to single-use plastic that I see started with the packaging of water, well at least this product (access to which should be a human right and not something that is bought and sold in my opinion because after all we cannot live without it) would have been the easiest to market as a healthy solution as opposed to plastic bags which may have been introduced around this time also.

The conviction culturally in Bali is that packaged water is not only healthy, but it also reflects social status and is the proper way to serve guests. This has been extrapolated to other types of food and drink – today it is extremely unusual to be a guest anywhere where one is served something that is not wrapped in single-use plastic. Not only is this extremely concerning in terms of the plastic waste it creates but it is also potentially detrimental to one’s health and of course an expensive way to live for people in a developing economy.

How did Bali end up in this tragically avoidable situation? In the next issue I’m going to talk a bit about the emergence of packaged water in Indonesia and how it possibly could have been avoided.

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