Bali’s Plastic Problem – be part of the solution

We have been on Bali for 5 weeks and while Big F is settling into Wood School, I have really become aware of Bali’s plastic problem. I did know that there is an issue, particularly with plastic bottles of water purchased by throngs of tourists, but the plastic problem goes much deeper than that. Balinese are in love with this wonder material, which is relatively new to them. Walking around Ubud and Lovina (two places, which we have visited so far) I took some pictures to give you an idea of how big the problem is.

Traditional ‘packaging’ on Bali has been, and still is, a banana leaf. It is strong, water-proof and easy to shape. And if you throw it on the ground it will biodegrade. Balinese have swapped the banana leaf for plastic, but they still have the habit of throwing rubbish on the ground. Sadly the plastic won’t magically disappear.

Bali’s Plastic Problem – in pictures

 Bali rice fields with plastic rubbish Bali's plastic problem

Fly tipping is common, as is burning rubbish

Bali corn fields with plastic rubbish mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

Fields are often littered with rubbish from overflowing ditches.

monkey forest rubbish in water mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

Even beautiful protected places like Monkey Forest have problems with rubbish, which just flows in with the water (Apologies for the poor quality of the picture. I can’t wait to start using my new camera!).

rubbish on Lovina beach mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

While Big F played in the sand I’ve decided to collect some rubbish on the Lovina beach. After 15 minutes I had quite a pile. Then I decided to cool off in the sea, except every time I tried to walk in a piece of rubbish floated by and I just had to fish it out to add to my pile. In my pile there was lots of plastic straws, cigaret butts (they are not made out of biodegradable paper, as most people seem to think) and various drinks containers. I’ve even come across a disposable nappy floating in the sea! 

The business owners, who so cordially invite yachties to visit Lovina, keep their restaurants and bars rubbish free, but don’t seem to consider that a messy beach might scare off visitors. They only look after their own premisses and don’t make any efforts to clean the stretch of beach immediately in front of their business.

 bull running Lovina plastic rubbish mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

There are no bins provided during local events and all the rubbish is simply thrown on the ground. Once it is eventually cleaned up, it is piled up and burnt.

lovina bull running zero waste snack mumbalanace Bali's plastic problem

The only zero waste snack offered at the bull races in Lovina were bunches of peanuts. Sadly, the vendor rather pointlessly puts them in a plastic bag before passing them to the buyer.

new replaces old shack on Bali rice field mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

Traditionally a shack like this would have been made out of local materials, like bamboo and palm leaves. Now new materials appear, like corrugated iron and plastic roofing.

shop bought plastic vs home upcycled mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

Plastic, shop-bought items are replacing traditional and upcycled solutions.

dodol wrapped in corn leaves Bali's plastic problem

Dodol is a traditional Indonesian dessert made out of sticky corn flour, palm sugar and natural flavourings. On Bali it is traditionally wrapped in dry corn leaves, though as you can see plastic has found its way here in form of the string.

It is very difficult to buy anything other than fruit and vegetables, which is not wrapped in plastic.  

How to be part of the solution

There is a few things you can do to help reduce Bali’s plastic problem. bamboo straw in abe-do organic warung ubud Bali's plastic problem

Use alternatives to plastic straws. Like this bamboo straw served with fresh juice in Abe-Do organic warung in Ubud. It’s a good idea to use these at home as well, especially if you have kids.

glass straw in fussy bird ubud bali Bali's plastic problem Another alternative to plastic is glass straws. They are used for example by Fussy Bird restaurant in Ubud. If you don’t have a reusable straw of your own it’s a good idea to frequent restaurants, which offer them.

coconut with metal straw by a pool mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

We have some metal straws, which we use at home, particularly for coconuts. And I do my best to remember to take them when we are going out. And, in case you are wondering, all the reusable straws come with little brushes to keep them clean inside.

reusable plastic take away container mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

Eating out or getting a take-away is a very cost effective way of feeding yourself in Bali. Buying food and cooking at home doesn’t really save you much money, if at all. Unfortunately take-aways mean packaging. Because of that we bought a reusable, stackable take-away box. Metal would have been better, but we could not get hold of one in here. I console myself that it is made in Indonesia and the plastic it is made of is recyclable.

reusable shopping bags and onya bags mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

It is surprising how many people who use reusable shopping bags at home are happy to use plastic ones on holidays. I’ve made sure to take my trusty shopping basket, cloth bags and Onya Weigh produce bags (great for stopping smaller items from scattering around the bag).

topping up reusable water bottle mumbalance Bali's plastic problem

Use reusable water bottles. This is us filling up at Heathrow before our departure to Bali. You can fill your bottle at home/hotel from the big water dispenser. Bali does have hot climate, so you should drink 2 liters of water per day and of course it’s a lot to carry. Don’t worry, you won’t have to. Chances are you will sit down to have a drink in shade during the day, or have a drink with your meal, so a 0.75 liter  or 1 liter bottle per person should be enough for the day.

nazava water filter bali's plastic problem

If you are staying in Bali for a month or more it makes sense to buy a water filter like this one. There are different sizes and depending on how much water you drink, the filter lasts about a year. It costs around £15-£20, depending on the model you choose, and it will definitely save you money compared to buying the big water bottles for dispensers. When you are leaving donate it to your host, or a local family. Not many locals use this system, as the initial cost is too high for them. You can buy these filters in Tech Kiosk, which is located in Ubud on Jalan Raya Pengosekan.


Other things you can do to help reduce Bali’s plastic problem

drink coconuts and fresh fruit and vegetable juices rather than bottled drinks, as these come without packaging

find an eco-laundry near you (there are a few in Ubud). If you are staying for longer, renting a place with a washing machine, or even buying one, may be more cost effective. You can buy a machine at 1.5 mln IDR (around £90 at the time of writing). This means  you can use eco-laundry balls (do buy before you come) or soap nuts (you can buy these locally, for example at Ubud organic market taking place on Wednesdays and Saturdays). Apart from reducing toxic waste flowing into street-side ditches, the benefit of washing clothes at home is that your clothes will not get damaged as quickly. Standard laundries use bleach and dryers, which really shorten life of fabrics.

buy fruit and veg at markets  or local shops. Large shops are expensive and you are likely to buy imported produce. I came across a papaya from California, during papaya season on Bali!


I would love to hear from you if you have any more ideas on how to help preserve dream holiday locations like Bali. We all travel to see beautiful nature, but we must make sure we don’t damage it in the process.

Bali's plastic problem be part of the solution

PS. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you buy something I will receive a small commission, yet you will not pay anything extra. This sort of funding helps me run this blog and continue writing about all things green.