A Time for ChangeIt takes around 100 million barrels of oil to make the estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags used around the world each year! Manufactured from petroleum, they release tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere during production and are notoriously damaging to the environment. Thousands of plastic bags are given out in Bali each day, many of which will end up in the sea where they can take up to 1000 years to break down, killing numerous marine organisms in the process. Mistaken by turtles for jellyfish and frequently seen wrapped around coral heads where they smother and kill the polyps. It has been estimated that more than a million birds and over 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from consuming or becoming entangled in plastic.
Bali produces over 5,000 tons of garbage every day, up to 30% of which is plastic! The two traditional methods for disposing of plastic are to burn it or bury it. On an island the size of Bali burying is not really a long-term solution with the city’s landfill site bursting at the seams. So, much of the plastic here is burned. The lack of an effective refuse collection system on the island leaves many people responsible for the disposal of their own waste, and burning plastic is a familiar smell as you travel around Bali. There is a third method of disposal which unfortunately is commonplace on the island, and that is dumping. Wherever you are in Bali you cannot escape the sight of rubbish lining the side of the road, covering the beaches or clogging up the mangroves.
In the case of plastic bags however, the issue is more than one of disposal. It is a question of whether we actually need them at all! The plastic bag is one of the most ubiquitous items of everyday life. We use plastic bags because we are presented with them when shopping and they provide a useful means of transporting our goods back to our homes. But what is wrong with a reusable bag? The idea is nothing new but for some reason people still continue to opt for using plastic bags at every opportunity. To make matters worse’ I have seen shoppers wearing a backpack gladly accept a plastic bag for items as small as a razor or a can of soda. It is time we stop and think about the consequences of our actions. An act as simple as refusing a plastic bag at the supermarket, if undertaken by everyone would have an enormous effect. It would send out a powerful message to the bag manufacturers regarding consumer choice and how attitudes are changing towards protecting our natural resources through sustainable development.
The consumer really does hold the power and from a small action, major changes can be accomplished. Next time you visit the supermarket or convenience store, take a reusable bag with you and when offered a plastic bag, just say no. Tell your friends to do the same. Tourists to the island have a particular responsibility to minimize the environmental impact of their stay. After all it is the beauty of Bali’s beaches that draws people from around the world to the island year after year. A little social and environmental responsibility on all our parts will go some way to help protecting these resources for future generations.
As a final thought, remember this; plastic does not biodegrade! This means that every plastic bag that any of us have ever used is still out there in some form and will be for long after we have disappeared, damaging the environment and the fragile organisms that live in it.