EXPLORING PLASTIC POLLUTION IN INDONESIA
Earlier this year, Meg Haywood Sullivan, Nicole Gormley, Anna Ehrgott, Flora Christin, and Lisa Sheldon spent a couple of weeks in Indonesia surfing and exploring the country. Their goal: to spread awareness of the global plastic pollution problem in the second largest plastic polluter in the world. We were excited to tell their story and help the group go completely reusable along the way. Read on to hear about their trip!
The trip started out in Bali with a mission to meet with some incredible organizations on the battlegrounds of finding solutions to the plastic pollution problems in Indonesia. We wanted to use our outlets to help spread awareness of the hard work being done in Indonesia.
We spent a few days in Canggu to get our toes wet, meeting the girls of Bye Bye Plastic bags and Revolv. We were so happy to get the ball rolling with such inspiring girls. We spent a few days in Uluwatu where our good friend Rip Zinger showed us the ins and outs of Surfing Temple and Secrets. We had the most unbelievable hospitality from the friends at Uluwatu Surf Villas and Drifter surf shop. It’s truly heaven on earth.
We made our way up to Ubud where we stayed at Bambu Indah, an oasis on the river! Everything you eat is from their gardens! This place was magic, not only are they doing an incredible job at being self sustaining they also have programs where they give back to the community. We went on a trash walk through the jungle. Their program allows the community to make money off the the trash that is collected. Very cool and inspiring.
Next made our way up the coast to meet up with Conservational International. Located just north of Balian, they took us on an educational tour of the dirtiest river in Bali. They have a program that has a trash collector in the river, working with the tides to collect trash. It’s a step in the right direction however, pretty discouraging to see the amount of work that would need to be done to clean up that river. It seemed like an impossible situation but they are doing their best to make it work.
From there we took a ferry from Bali to Java. A couple hour drive to East Java we ended up at a beach called Banyuwangi Regency. Due to small swell, we got excited for the prospects of actually getting to surf G Land! After a day of taking 5 million selfies with the “local tourists” and one bizarre karaoke night we packed into a 4x4 and jammed even further east to the G Land jungle. At least 5 hours later, with tons of wild peacock and monkey sightings we were on a boat looking at overhead lefts wrapping through the reef!
A few days of barrel dodging and we were back on the road to west! From G Land I think we traveled at least 21 hours straight…It was a blur of missed flights dirt roads and traffic to get us to the most epic right hand longboard wave in West Java. Totally worth the journey! The next 5 days we spent making the most of Java. It was everything I could have hoped for. Waves all day, long and scooter rides into the jungle mountains, and bbq’s with the locals. The people were so kind and helpful. Flora had been there before so she introduced us to all of her friends and charged the surf all day, everyday, flawlessly.
We were so sad to leave West Java. It stole our hearts…but the journey continued back to Canggu where were unexpectedly had one more day due to canceled flights because of a typhoon. We happily got one more Old Man’s surf in with an endless party wave.
What were some highlights of the trip?
I think the low moments on this trip actually brought us to our highest highs. As a group of 5 women traveling in tight quarters for 1 month we’re bound to uncover some dirt in the sand. We are all trying our best to establish ourselves as strong, independent, successful women that take care of our business and get the goods. So despite actually having this trip totally figured out, there were a few bumps in the road. Even the bumpiest road we went down was on the rooftop of a rusted out 4x4 throughout the G Land Jungle. We had checked in to a spot that was recommended to us though a few friends in East Java. The second we arrived we wanted to go. It had been talked up by fellow surfers as an epic wave with amazing vibe but unfortunately it was not that. We tried, we surfed, we boated around looking for waves, snorkeling, anything but, ultimately we had a major change of plans and busted to G Land. It was so much traveling, so much packing in and out but damn it was so worth it! It was a highlight for all of us to see the legendary wave!
What was the purpose of the trip?
We had all taken a surf trip to the middle east together last year and although it was a great time we got pretty skunked on waves. So this time around we were pretty keen to find surf. We also wanted to use the trip as an opportunity to learn more about the global plastic issue. With Indonesia being the 2nd largest plastic polluter in the world while also a world class surf destination it seemed like a good place to not only surf but learn what’s being done on the ground to combat the issue. Our main mission became getting to West Java to find a right hand point break that Anna’s been dreaming of for a while, but throughout the 3.5 weeks we were there we met with a handful of local NGO’s and environmental groups tackling the plastic problem to learn how we could help.
Can you talk a bit about the plastic pollution on the islands?
In short, it’s gnarly. It’s really, really bad. The plastic issue in Indonesia is right in your face and there is no denying it. Especially during the rainy season when all of the plastic thrown away inland gets washed away to the ocean or gets blown in from other islands or countries when strong west winds turn on. Its a combination of lack of recycling and waste infrastructure as well as people just throwing their trash in the streets because it was only a few generations ago that trash use to be largely organic and thus would decompose. Its important to note, the plastic problem is not just an Indonesian problem though. This is something that’s happening around the world, its just a really in your face example of what’s going.
And in terms of what’s being done to prevent it depends on the scale you’re asking about. In Bali in particular there is a handful of really amazing organizations tirelessly working to not only help reduce plastic use through local businesses or educational awareness but also help clean it up out of our environmental systems. However, you can see that plastic is being washed a shore from around the world. So groups are also working hard to try and change people’s perspective on a global level.
What are the local people doing to help combat this problem?
First, there is an awesome trash-collecting program that was put together by a local business in Ubud, Bali called Bambuh Indah. It’s important to note that it is organized by a local business, rather than a government organization. This points out the change that is happening right now in Bali in response to how bad the plastic issue has become. Cleanups are largely being driven by grassroots movements, committed individuals, and local environmental groups. One of the biggest takeaways from this trip was a reawakening to feel like we could do something as individuals. The plastic issue is so bad and so global that often times if feels overwhelming to tackle without major governmental or system change but we saw firsthand that its not just one solution. It was a lot of different solutions being put forth by a lot of different people all with the same goal. Often times it feels as if our ideas might be too small, or we might be too late to the game, or that someone else is already doing it… but in Bali you see that impactful change has come from a collective effort of everyone coming up with their own version of the solution and actually acting on it. And that was pretty cool to see firsthand.
What types of reusable options are available on the islands?
We were pleasantly surprised by the readily available filtered water. Much of Bali has drinking water delivered in large jugs, which is ideal for filling reusable bottles before heading out for the day. Our favorite grocery store, Bali Buda, sells bamboo straws which we used daily for sipping coconuts, and every single coffee shop we frequented accepted our bring-your-own-mug philosophy. After a couple days of feeling things out, going plastic-free is perfectly plausible in Bali. In more remote regions we did struggle to find filtered water, which was a big nudge to start bringing our own water filter on trips.
Favorite spot you visited?
West Java. Smoothie bowls, right hand point breaks, some of the best longboarding we’ve ever witnessed, and delicious communal meals served on massive banana leaves. The community here is tight knit, yet warm and welcoming to outsiders. We immediately felt like we had a family.
Most memorable surf day?
G-Land stands out. We weren’t even planning on heading up to that stretch of the coast, but a few sleepless nights at what turned out to be a party hostel left us in dire need of going somewhere- anywhere else. G-Land was the only other spot we’d heard of in East Java so without thinking twice we jumped in a 4x4 and mobbed up the the famed left. It was our idea of perfection. A foot or two overhead and only a handful of other surfers in the water. We paddled to the top of the point, sat right on the drop off of the coral reef and caught a couple of the longest, fastest and funnest waves id ever surfed. The entire surf was an adrenaline rush- even though it was small by G-Land standards. Plus you’re in a National Park so there’s nothing to keep you up at night but the sounds of squabbling monkeys and stealthy leopards. In all honesty, after surfing that much we probably could have slept through monkey tribe warfare.