Surfers’ Role in Bali’s Fight Against Plastic Waste

Written by Emma Bukowski from Noserider Surf Club

Whether you’ve set foot on its sandy shores or not, you’ll know about Bali’s plastic problem. Often used as a negative case study, portraying the sheer harm that plastic can do to a tourist destination – and not to forget, the home of more than 4 million people – Bali is in the midst of a plastic crisis. It’s one that’s hard to turn a blind eye to.

For the surfing community in particular, the problem raises its ugly head every single day. Because the reality is, not a single beach in Bali is plastic-free. Approximately 33,000 tons of plastic per year makes its way into Bali’s waterways, before being released onto an even longer journey into the world’s oceans.

Four of Indonesia’s rivers are among the top 20 most polluted rivers worldwide; a sobering figure which will shock anyone who understands Bali’s miniscule size in the geographical context of the planet.

Surfers’ Role in Bali's Fight Against Plastic Waste

The Good and the Bad of Tourism

Undoubtedly, tourism plays a significant role in contributing to the issue of plastic waste. With more than 5 million visitors visiting each year, the consumption of plastic-wrapped products is multiplied and the effects are nothing short of disastrous.

However, it’s also worth mentioning how Bali’s allure as a traveler’s beachside paradise, can attract the right individuals, and those who choose to be part of the solution. These individuals are none other than surfers.

Notoriously connected with the oceans, surfers are increasingly finding themselves confronting the menace of plastic pollution while pursuing their passion. In an age of increasing environmental awareness, their adoration for the world’s oceans is helping Bali to pay attention to its plastic waste problem.

The Surfer’s Responsibility

The actions taken by surfers in Bali have been no small feat, with some bold actions shining light on the local environmental catastrophe. For instance, brothers Sam and Gary Bencheghib gained widespread attention in 2018 when they embarked on a kayaking expedition like no other down Indonesia’s most polluted river. After floating on a raft made entirely from plastic bottles, they later founded Sungai Watch, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to removing plastic waste from Indonesia’s waters. Since then, they have successfully cleared nearly 1.5 million kilograms of plastic waste.

But it’s not only a few individuals carving out the way. In Indonesia, the wider surfing community – impacted by the rise of plastic waste – are listening. In fact, better than that, they’re acting and they’re helping to lead the way towards a more positive future.

Organising beach clean-ups is one way in which this is taking place in Bali, with surfers joining or leading events which span across all of Bali’s beaches. One particular group of surfers in recent years cleaned 31 beaches in 31 days, in a large-scale project which saw unprecedented amounts of plastic waste collected.

It’s also surfers who were responsible for an online petition to ban the use and sale of plastic bags on the island.

Surfer lying on boards looking up at the camera

More than Clean-ups

Although some issues – such as preventing hoards of plastic from reaching oceans – are triggering and certainly pressing, other disastrous environmental concerns are also coming to the surface within the surfing community in Bali.

In a more general sense, surfers are reassessing their daily choices. New materials are being considered for wetsuits, new waxes are being made from non-toxic substances, and reef-safe sunscreen is becoming a norm.

Stepping away from the beach itself, the frightening sight of plastic mountainsand trash-filled rivers are shocking travelers into rejecting non-reusable packaging and shifting demand towards more responsible restaurants and cafes.

The Future of Bali’s Beaches

Whilst there really are endless environmental issues to worry about, it is also natural that we all find our passion somewhere. In Bali, surfing isn’t just a sport; it’s a call to action, a commitment to preserving the very oceans that provide endless joy and inspiration. As we all do our part to make a difference, and with the surfing community starting with the ocean, the future of Bali’s beaches is looking just a little more positive.

At water level, looking at a surfer from behind

About the Author

Emma Bukowski is a Designer and the Founder of Noserider Surf Club.

As she puts it: “At the heart of it all, Noserider Surf Club is about chasing your dreams and creating a dream life that younger you would have been proud of and so excited to live.”

Learn more at noseridersurf.com or follow them on Instagram or Pinterest.

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