We Need to Cast Spells, Not Offer Bad Smells

How can one little island, which attracts travellers from around the planet to its fabulous scenery and some of the world’s best resorts, do so horribly badly when it comes to something as essential to everyone’s health and comfort as rubbish control?

Outside of the manicured enclave of Nusa Dua, it’s almost impossible to find a rubbish bin in a public area. The bins in the Nusa Dua gardens through which tourists stroll are crafted from stone to represent local fauna, such as frogs. They are discreet, plentiful and attractive.

The Playmate and I spent our first year in Indonesia in Siligita, in the non-manicured part of Nusa Dua area, where we paid for the locally organised collection of our garbage, supposedly every three or four days. Being “tourists,” we were required to pay for a year’s service in advance. Locals paid monthly. We wouldn’t have minded if the service had been reasonably reliable. It wasn’t.

Here in our little pocket of Ungasan, we and others pay a local family to dispose of our rubbish every couple of days after it has been taken daily to vacant land. A timber box has been constructed to prevent the chickens, dogs and cows from strewing the trash around. The system works pretty well.

The modus operandi of any building or renovation crews in the area has been to dump their trash on the nearest land, even if that land belongs to their employer. A huge pile of rubble and other rubbish, including food containers and wrappers, is growing beside the wall of our near neighbour, no doubt attracting rats and other vermin. Attempts to ask the workers to clean it up have failed.

Disgusted one morning by all the bits of plastic and other refuse that had been thrown onto the land opposite our house, I marched up and down it, picking up the trash for proper disposal. “I’ll do it Ma’am. I’ll do it,” called the housekeeper from two doors up. But you don’t do it, I shot back.

However, my example did make a difference to the amount of garbage on the land, until a new work crew arrived and claimed the land as its personal rubbish dump. The crew set up camp in a swamp and deliberately blocked the street drain that takes waste water away from our villa – and others – so it would not flow into their swamp. We unblocked it. They blocked it. No amount of persuasion, lessons on dengue fever or even pleading would budge them.

Aha, I thought as the band of merry banjar men arrived to receive their regular donation. They can get the drain unblocked, and then they can have their money. That worked.

Down the road a bit in Puri Gading, upmarket shops have as their neighbours plots of vacant land overflowing with garbage through which animals constantly scavenge.

A high-standard local foodstall is battling a rat problem created, they say, by the rubbish-dumping practices of a large, successful nearby local supermarket. The foodstall pays the authorities for regular removal of its waste. Other businesses in the area, including a Western-operated cafe, do not.

On Sanur Beach we watch a café worker pick up rubbish from her bit of beach until it is pristine. She rakes and sweeps the sand. Her friend arrives and gives her some candy. She throws the wrappers on the newly cleaned beach. Doh.

Many organisations and individuals who volunteer for Clean Up days are disillusioned and questioning why they bother. The impact of their work is so short-term.

Bali’s rivers can be seas of floating plastic. Our beaches can be shocking, especially if strong waves have uncovered shallow pits of garbage that should never have been buried as it won’t degrade. Many people have stopped swimming in the polluted oceans. That’s a tragic outcome for a tourist island.

What’s happening in Bali’s schools? Do the schools have rubbish bins? Are the students taught to use them? Do they clean up their grounds? Are they taught the dangers of disease and how to prevent it through basic environmental hygiene?

I suspect not. A foreign dentist who volunteers his annual holiday time to treat children and adults on Lombok told me that villagers were beginning to use toothbrushes because he had supplied them to the children and showed them how to use them and why. The kids were taking the message and the practice home.

That’s where health control of Bali’s environment including proper rubbish disposal should start: in the schools and in the banjars.

Bali and its economy are vulnerable enough to natural disaster and acts of terrorism. People have witnessed how easily tourism can wither, and their earnings with it. They know and fear the dangers. But it seems they can’t see that bad garbage control is equally threatening.

Not even the renowned charm and hospitality of the Balinese people will keep tourists coming back to put money in their pockets if visitors are exposed to shocking eyesores, nauseatingly putrid smells and the risk of disease. Practical, grassroots education needs to start now.

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