Personal Message: Working towards a waste-free lifestyle

It’s plastic free July it’s so it’s topical that I write this piece about our plastic pollution crisis and the overall perceptions of waste and recycling.

A quick intro – I’m half Australian and half Indonesian (Balinese to be exact) and I’ve spent my life on the beaches of Sydney and the beaches of Bali. Having spent a life surrounded by the ocean there’s a clear contrast between the health of Australia’s oceans compared to that of Bali. I could easily point the finger at developing nations and simply Australia is better than Indonesia with looking after the planet. The stats would back up my opinion as it clearly states Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia topping the list of being the biggest polluters of plastic into our oceans.

I’ve seen first-hand the plastic pollution in Bali, as a kid I’d help my family build up all the rubbish into a pile at our family compound and simply burn it. The other thing I’d do with my dad was walk on the beach and look through to the rubbish to find crabs. Crabs would make their home in floating rubbish and coconuts and I’d spend hours looking through rubbish to find a few crustaceans. In short, waste management wasn’t exactly high on the priority list back in the 90s. (Neither was safety, rummaging through rubbish barefoot with no gloves)

Prior to working at Cheeki it would be easy for me to look at the stats and just sit on the conclusion that these countries are ruining our planet. However, being involved with an eco-friendly business and working towards reducing plastic use it’s opened my mind to realise two things. Plastic pollution is a global issue that’s very complicated to address and that plastic pollution is a very serious problem we are facing as a planet. However, I do believe that we is can get ourselves out of this mess through proper action.  

I’ll start by winding the clock back to the 1960s. The Balinese lived a simple village lifestyle with one of the most "un-environmentally" friendly things being banana leaves. Banana leaves was the main food wrapping material, reusable baskets were used for shopping at the markets, food was made from scratch and packaging was minimal so there wasn’t really a need for a rubbish bin.

Now, fast forward to the 1980s, tourism starts to boom and the landscape starts to change. Instead of banana leaves it’s plastic wrappers, instead of boiling water and drinking it at home it’s buying plastic bottles from the store. It’s OK to throw a banana leaf on the ground but it’s not so great throwing a plastic wrapper on the ground. To the Balinese that’s what you did with your rubbish. Plastic infiltrated the village lifestyle so quickly that the education around waste was non-existent so they just continued throwing it on the ground.  Even my mum was victim to this casual approach on waste. It wasn’t until my dad told her to put her rubbish in a bin. He, unlike my mum was educated around waste and knew how to disposed of it (Today my mum knows how to be waste-wise)

Bali is just an example, much of South East Asia would have experienced a similar situation with rubbish which is one of the reasons it’s only now that they are starting to take control of their waste management given that they had a delayed start compared to developed nations. That being said it’s no easy task. On the flipside of plastic, it does present a solution for those living in poverty. It’s easy for us to buy a big bottle of shampoo or laundry detergent but those with little money are offered single-use packets of shampoo and laundry detergent for very cheap. It may be easy to just stop selling plastic, right? Well, remember how I said it was a complicated issue. These are the complications. Do you deny those living in poverty essential items because you want to protect the planet from plastic waste?

Here’s the second big issue facing these countries. Becoming the western world’s rubbish bin.  The United States and other developed nations produce the most plastic waste but it’s way too expensive to recycle plastic in developed countries so where does it go? It gets shipped to South East Asia under dodgy deals to be “recycled.” These countries can’t even manage their own waste let alone the plastic of other countries. The infrastructure isn't there to handle the overflow so it spills into our oceans. Or the processing plants go to where the money is an priotises external rubbish and neglects domestic rubbish.

How can we, sitting in our homes looking at our clean waterways simply point the finger at Asia and think it’s their responsibility because they are made the mess. By playing the blame game is the reason plastic pollution has become such a big issue. Out of sight out of mind, right? No, plastic pretty much lives forever so you’ll be sure to see it again!

We can sit here and blame the corporations producing the plastic or the dodgy politicians doing under-the-table deals to dump our “recycling” but at the end of the day it’s all our fault. Everyone consumes plastic and everyone is to blame.

 The good news is we can make a change for the better. You don’t have to create a social movement or anything but as the old cliché goes – doing something small can make a big impact. Use a reusable water bottle, take that reusable coffee cup and remember your reusable bag. You may think it doesn’t make a difference but it does.

Just like a piece of plastic may make its way around the world your act of reducing waste may make its way around the world. That bottle you didn’t buy because you refilled a reusable bottle is one less bottle in waste. That one less bottle on recycling pressure and one less bottle that goes overseas for recycling.

 Let us lead by example and start reusing and reducing our waste.

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