The Effects of the Single-Use Plastic Ban in Bali
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The Effects of the Single-Use Plastic Ban in Bali

Despite the beautiful beaches and nature that Bali has to offer, the island is struggling with a drastic plastic problem. The two Balinese sisters Isabel and Melati Wijsen were convinced that they could do something about this and started the movement Bye Bye Plastic Bags at the age of 13 and 15. After years of campaigning against single-use plastic, Balinese governor Wayan Koster signed on December 21, 2018, the law against the single-use plastic. 

Photo credit to By Bye Plastic Bag

This law came into force from June 2019, so that companies would have 6 months to abandon their current method of merchandising and packaging. People believed Bali was one step closer to being a plastic-free island. It was the first province-wide regulation in Indonesia against the use of plastic bags, straws, and polystyrene. “All stakeholders must abide by the governor’s regulations to maintain the holiness and harmony of Bali,” Koster said. Koster hoped that the new law would cut single-use plastic consumption by 70% in 2019 and even more into the future.

Is Bali making progress?

The start of 2019, the use of plastics had drastically dropped in modern stores around Bali. According to the data from the Bali Province Environment Board, the use of single-use plastic at Indomaret and Alfamart had dropped 97.67 per cent and 88.31 per cent respectively as of April 2019. Meanwhile, the use of single-use plastic in Denpasar stores had dropped 99.14 per cent by the end of January 2019, and the pile of plastic garbage at the main rubbish dump had dropped 6.67 per cent by March 2019.

Small businesses are struggling

Despite the positive result of the use of plastics in modern stores, the Bali ban on single-use plastics is widely ignored by small businesses on Bali. Now, almost a year after the ban was enacted, chain supermarkets, convenience stores and shopping malls have stopped providing single-use plastic bags for shoppers. Some still provide free paper bags or totes, but most choose to sell reusable canvas shopping bags. However, according to them, the ban has not yet fully arrived at smaller companies, traditional markets, street vendors, and corner shops. 

‘’When customers buy fruit, they expect plastic bags,’’ Dini, selling fruit from a little stall at the market said. ‘’If I don’t have plastic bags, then what are they going to use to carry the fruit? They will be angry with me. They will not buy from me. They will go to the next seller.’’ According to Dini, an alternative to plastic bags is not possible for her because it’s too expensive. At his shop, a bundle of 20 small plastic bags sells for IDR 1K. By contrast, a dozen paper bags sell for IDR 20K.

It’s a social challenge

Thomas Wright, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, whose research focuses on plastic waste in Indonesia points out that although the government-led ban is an important step and will certainly have a significant effect on the amount of plastic waste produced on Bali. There is an urgent need to implement sustainable rubbish collection services and management facilities. 

Photo credit to By Bye Plastic Bag

The rubbish from southern Bali’s beaches and waterways end up at the Suwung Waste Processing Plant, a 32-hectare landfill near Sanur, another tourist area on the eastern coast where rubbish pickers sift through the stinking mountain of waste accompanied by birds, wild cows and pigs. Therefore the local government is planning to develop a 10-hectare waste-to-energy generator at the site by 2021 and convert the remainder of the space into an eco-park. 

Reducing plastic in Bali is not so much a technical challenge, but a social challenge of adoption, dedication and changing habits. Plastic litter is a massive challenge and it will take years of dedicated effort to address it. Seeing the change that has taken place in Indonesia in just the last two years is amazing. We at BALI NEWS are positive that if these efforts persist and develop a new norm, Indonesia can become a role model for positive change.

Fingers crossed.

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