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Sustainable Tourism Part 1: Beach Clean-ups

Your guide to cleaning the beach

Earlier this year, 13,000 volunteers participated in “Bali’s Biggest Clean-ups” to prevent 30 tonnes of plastic waste from entering the ocean. This is intended to help with Bali’s “garbage emergency”, after the island’s beaches started disappearing under mountains of waste.

In fact, Indonesia is the second highest contributor of marine waste in the world, with 1.29 million metric tonnes of waste released into the ocean each year. That’s equivalent to the weight of 7500 Blue Whales!

Are travellers responsible for the garbage emergency?

Some people attribute the garbage emergency to Bali’s booming tourist industry. Afterall, hotels and restaurants are basically revolving doors, where people come in, consume, and leave without any thought as to where their waste goes. Though Indonesia’s visitors are a primary source of pollution, the buck doesn’t stop at the travellers.

As pointed out by Dave Hakkens, the problem has been around even before the tourist boom. In the past, food packaging used to be made out of biodegradable banana leaves, so locals would often throw wrappers on the ground after a meal. However even though food packaging is now primarily made of plastic, this habit has persisted, resulting in plastic waste in areas where they shouldn’t be. Also, hotels, villages and other businesses often dump their waste into rivers, and this waste ends up on beaches during coastal tides and currents.

Packaging in the past used to be made out of banana leaves. Photo Credit: Unsplash

In addition, Indonesia’s current infrastructure is also unable to support the waste produced by 270 million local peoples and over-16 million travellers. Waste management is also poor, with not much recyclable trash making their way to the proper channels. 

What can I do?

The DIY Beach clean-up

Effectiveness score: 6 out of 10

With so much trash making its way to Indonesia’s beaches, the most common solution has been the beach clean-up event, with locals and travellers pitching in to pick up litter. 

Where to go: For those keen on making the most out of your voluntourism, head towards the more problematic beaches of Kuta, Seminyak and Jimbaran in Bali, Anyer in Serang and Ancol in Jakarta. 

Plastic waste at the beach. Photo Credit: Wildlife by Yuri


1. Beach clean-ups are more efficient than underwater dives

As compared to an underwater dive to extract trash in the ocean, beach clean-ups are much more efficient, costing less time, money and training.

2. Keeping any amount of microplastics out of the ocean makes an impact

Microplastics, consisting of small pieces of plastic 5 millimetres or less, form much of ocean pollution. In other words, you are making a larger impact than you realise.

Plastic waste at the beach. Photo Credit: Wildlife by Yuri


1. It is a short-term solution

Spending an hour of your vacation to voluntarily pick up litter on the beach is a short-term solution, and doesn’t address the structural and cultural causes of the trash problem.

2. There may be unintended consequences 

Even after a beach clean-up, the trash may have nowhere else to go, due to gaps in waste management. For instance, pro surfer Dede Suryana hosts a beach clean-up every Friday. However, due to a lack of rubbish trucks to take away the trash, Dede and his team end up burning what they've collected. So instead of releasing plastic into the ocean, potentially carcinogenic and toxic chemicals were released into the atmosphere.

3. You may need to inform the authorities of your intentions

Rik, one of our local partners from Tambora, recommends that travellers looking to clean up more remote beaches should declare their intentions to the head of the village or the local police agency before starting. This is to prevent suspicion from the local authorities. In some areas, you may even need a permit before you can get started.

The Do-It-With-An-Organisation Beach Clean-Up

Effectiveness score: 8 out of 10

You can also keep a look-out for clean-ups and events organised by responsible organisations. These organisations have longer-term approaches to address many of the issues associated with DIY beach clean-ups.

Which organisations: Organisations you can look out for if you wish to go on a beach clean-up while on your Indonesian vacation include Trash Heroes, Gili Shark Conservation (Gili Islands) and Ocean Mimic (Bali). Head over to their Facebook pages to check out their beach clean-up events! Most of these organisations hold regular beach clean-up events, ranging from weekly to monthly events.

Leader of Trash Hero Indonesia, Wayan Aksara. Photo credit: Trash Heroes Indonesia


1. It can be a long-term solution  

Some organisations, such as Trash Heroes, go beyond the beach clean-up to implement long term solutions. For example, their Indonesian chapter in Gili Meno separate the polysterene foam trash collected during their weekly beach cleanups to transform into “beads” used to stuff bean bags and pillows. These products are produced, and later sold by local women on the island. This solves both the problems of trash and waste management. In Ubud, the chapter has a machine to shred plastic waste for reuse and recycling. 


1. It doesn’t address the waste pollution already in the ocean 

These organisations tend to deal with the waste on the beaches, but not the waste pollution that has already made its way into the ocean. This is where underwater dives come in! 

Underwater Clean-Ups

Effectiveness score: 7/10 

Lastly are the underwater clean-ups, if you wish to tackle waste already in the marine environment. It involves diving with a mesh bag to pick out trash embedded on corals and on the seabed.

Which organisations: Organisations that offer underwater clean-ups in Indonesia include Gili Shark Conservation (Gili Islands), and Zen Harmony Diving. Gili Sharks Conservations conduct underwater clean-ups every Friday, while Zen Harmony Diving holds their underwater clean-ups on the 28th of every month.

Photo credit: Gili Shark Conservation


1. Direct impact on marine life 

These dives allow you to pick up waste that has already entered the ocean, before they can harm any marine life.


1. Underwater Clean-ups are less efficient than beach clean-ups 

Underwater Clean-ups usually require you to be a certified diver, and are more costly than a beach clean-up due to the additional equipment and training required. Furthermore, due to the complexity of a dive, the amount of trash accumulated tends to be much lesser than what can be collected from the beachside in the same period of time. 

In any case, regardless of the method you choose, the ocean will certainly thank you for it! 

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