Earlier this year, Bali became the first Indonesian province to ban single-use plastics, such as bags, straws and polystyrene. While the ban is a great first step, it is unlikely to be enough to keep in check the island’s ocean pollution crisis. This year’s Zero Waste to Oceans Conference, which has been an annual part of R.O.L.E. Foundation’s awareness campaign since 2017, addressed the issue of whether corporations should be held responsible for the collection and recycling of their single-use plastic packaging. Held on the 14th of June in Sawangan, the free event attracted over 200 participants—including scholars, government officials and students—eager to participate in discussions and listen to talks by environmental experts.
Handoko Ramawidjaya Bumi, better known as Rama, who is a Media Manager at the R.O.L.E. Foundation, was the MC at this year’s event. He believes that addressing the subject of corporate responsibility is an important step to finding a win/win solution to the problem of plastic pollution. “We have seen lots of campaigns from giant corporate businesses who produce, use, and sell plastic with a hidden message of ‘it’s the consumer’s fault.’ Are we the cause of the problem or is it their unsustainable packaging that is destroying our planet?”
During the conference, the participants discussed how corporations, the government and the community can work together to minimize the use of plastic packaging, as well as other solid and liquid waste. The conference was opened with a speech by the founder of the R.O.L.E. Foundation, Mike O’Leary, who emphasizes the importance of waste management on the island. Some of the other guest speakers on board included Dwi Jayanthi from Plastik Detox Bali, I Gede Hendrawan from Udayana University, Reza Helmi from No Plastic Indonesia and Brenda Ritchmond from Bali Buda.
According to the R.O.L.E. Foundation, each day 100,000 cubic meters of waste produced by Indonesia makes its way into the ocean. A great deal of Bali’s contribution to this problem is due to poor waste management by the councils (desa) and sub-councils (banjar) who are responsible for 95 percent of the island’s waste management. Rama says that one of the reasons why waste management programs in most villages fail is because they do not have the money to pay the local community to bring their plastic to waste banks. “There’s no solid currency offered in exchange for plastic. This could change if the government provided funding to cover the cost of operations, manpower and land,” Rama says. “If the government created a solid system at the banjar level, we could start educating the local community on how to separate their waste between organic and non organic, and which one they can use for compost and which one they can sell per kilogram.”
The conference also highlighted that regulations and education go hand in hand when it comes to minimizing waste pollution. One of the solutions proposed during the conference centered around the implementation of taxes as a way of controlling the amount of plastic packaging used by companies. “We would also love to see manufacturers being forced to put labels on their packaging outlining the dangers of plastic. A bit like cigarette package banners with horrendous images that say ‘smoking causes cancer.’ Maybe this would make people reconsider buying certain products,” Rama says. “This, along with education, could make a huge difference. By including waste management in school curriculums, we could turn students into zero-waste believers and do-ers.”
To do its bit, each week, the R.O.L.E Foundation’s Public School Waste Management Program invites at least 20 children from three schools to the Zero Waste to Oceans Community Environment & Skill Center. “R.O.L.E. Foundation used to focus on massive clean ups on beaches. After several years of endless clean-ups, we realized that this was not enough and we needed to also focus on the root of the problem,” Rama says. “We believe that education is the key to solving the plastic waste problem. Children are much easier to teach about the dangers of plastic waste and how to prevent it.”
Each school that wished to participate in the program is assessed by an environmental educator sent by the R.O.L.E Foundation who determines how it can be best assisted. The students from each participating school are then invited to take part in workshops on topics such as waste separation, organic weaving, natural dyes, soap upcycling, sustainable business, marine life, composting, and sustainable agriculture. “After the workshops, we assess whether any changes have taken place at the schools. If the improvement is below our standard, we will invite the school for further workshops. All of this is free for Bali’s public school students, and includes school assessment, bus pickup, an eco passport and an upcycled bandana, as well as refreshments.”
Plastic pollution and poor waste management has a negative affect on public health, tourism and anybody who relies on the natural resources of the sea. While marine pollution is not an easy problem to solve, events such as the Zero Waste to Oceans Conference give hope that things can change for the better. Rama agrees. “I used to think that Bali’s oceans were beyond help, but after seeing that there are more and more people becoming aware of the waste management problem, I have gained more confidence that something can be done about it,” he says. “If everybody does their bit, no matter how small, a ripple can be turned into a wave. We want Bali to show the world that it is possible to make the world’s oceans clean.”
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