It’s rubbish day. Around noon we will put the bin out the front of the compound and it will be collected and replaced by another. Not such a big deal where you are perhaps, but here it’s taken a while to get organised.
Rewind. For too long we have been turning a blind eye to what happened to our waste. We put it out, and Bapak, the grandfather who does the garden, has taken it away. We know he has taken out the bottles and cans because we have seen stacks – some neat, some not – on the land outside. We know he has the occasional fire but really, we haven’t thought very hard. It’s too easy not to think.
There are rubbish trucks on the main road – private? local? we have no idea – but everything we have heard about disposal makes them an undesirable option. With Ubud’s landscape being characterised by ravines, the system is tip and forget. Entire ravines have become landfill and we didn’t want to contribute to that. So we did nothing. Not without shame, but nonetheless nothing.
Until early one morning, around 2am, when we were woken by the distinctive and acrid smell of burning plastic. Someone, not Bapak, had lit and left a smouldering heap. In his efforts to fill buckets from the pool to put it out, Eddie tripped. The impressive cut on his forehead earned him sympathy for quite a while. But that wasn’t the point: our hand had been forced. We had to do something – for ourselves and perhaps including the neighbours too.
We were aware of an organisation called Eco Bali. Their well-labelled canvas collection bins had been prominent at the Ubud Food Festival a few weeks earlier, so they were our first contact. No go. We weren’t located on a main road so their trucks could not reach us. We are about 100 metres down a lane – wide and paved, good for scooters and electric vans, but not a rubbish truck. Hurdle number one. We offered to meet them at the main road if we knew roughly when they would be collecting. No reply. Hurdle number two, and disappointing.
Turning to Google, we found the Bali Recycling (CV Peduli) website and sent a message. And waited. We sent a follow up email. And waited. We send a PM on their Facebook page. And waited. We sent a WhatsApp message and finally … an apologetic response. So busy. So short staffed but they would send someone out to check if the lane would be a problem. Pak Ngurah arrived exactly when he was due and declared that the lane was fine. Because we had been stockpiling all the time we had been trying to establish a service, our first collection would quite large and included a dead tv and dvd player. No problem. They take hazardous waste and all clean recyclables – plastic, paper, glass, metals. And all the sorting is done at their end.
But what of Bapak’s bottles and cans? We found out that he stockpiles until he has enough to sell to the ‘pemulung sampah’,
the men on bicycles who collect and presumably onsell. For 100 bottles or cans he receives the equivalent of $1. He is very happy to have an increase in his monthly pay that will more than compensate.
Bali is sinking under waste. The transition from a simple lifetyle of banana-leaf wrappings to plastic has been too swift. These past few weeks have been an exercise in mindfulness for us as every scrap of ours has been analysed, washed and dried before being discarded for collection. Kitchen waste has been composted for ages; we haven’t used plastic bags for shopping for a very long time. But even so, it is astonishing to realise how much plastic creeps into our lives and must be disposed of. It’s timely that this animation from Plastic Change International crossed our paths this week. The message isn’t just for Bali.
The cost of our collection service is small. The weight off our conscience is enormous.