Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bali

An Organizational Initiative by Kopernik

A video of a mantra ray and a British diver swimming in a sea of plastic off the coast of Bali went viral in March 2018, fueling public discussion on the issue of rampant and global plastic pollution. Mismanagement of plastic waste—and its subsequent journey into the world’s oceans—has long been a hot-button topic in global development, but its renewed exposure is giving way to a movement to reduce plastic waste.

As a social enterprise working to find and disseminate practical solutions that address broad development challenges, Kopernik seeks to play a role in the collective effort to reduce plastic waste. Headquartered in Bali, Indonesia over the past eight years, the organization is close to the heart of the problem: Indonesia is the world’s second-largest contributor to plastic waste in the ocean. The organization’s efforts to address plastic pollution began in late 2017 by testing the viability of a small-scale, do-it-yourself (DIY) plastic processing technology based on a model by Precious Plastic—a global open-source platform—as an appropriate solution to recycle plastic waste at a community level. The experiment found that while the machine has the economic potential to turn plastic waste collected in Bali into any number of profitable products, it was unlikely to make a significant dent in the volume of mismanaged plastic waste on the island.

The experiment shed light on the need for a multi-pronged strategy to address the convoluted waste management system. Technology fixes can only do so much without the accompanying behavioral change. In other words, as a community, we need to start changing how we do what we do daily.

For Kopernik, this meant holding ourselves accountable and taking an honest look at our organizational and individual behavior. Moving to a new office space in April 2018 was an opportunity to set a commitment to reduce dependence on plastic, particularly single-use plastic products. The office adopted a single-use plastic free zone to minimize consumption of products such as plastic bags and food packaging by challenging staff to find alternatives. To promote a culture of sorting, separate waste bins were labeled for organic, paper, and plastic waste. Staff members shared information on product alternatives to plastic, such as beeswax wraps and stainless steel straws. To monitor progress, all plastic waste is weighed each week and announced at the weekly staff meeting.

Moving to a new office space in April 2018 was an opportunity to set a commitment to reduce dependence on plastic, particularly single-use plastic products. The office adopted a single-use plastic free zone to minimize consumption of products such as plastic bags and food packaging by challenging staff to find alternatives.

The improved awareness has led to behavior change, and the staff reduced waste overall. Before implementing the single-use plastic-free office, Kopernik’s Ubud-based office of 50 colleagues produced a total of 3.9 kg of plastic waste per week. In the weeks following the launch of the initiative, plastic waste dropped nearly fourfold to 1.1 kg. More recently, the office generated 1.3 kilogram of plastic waste in the last week of March this year, falling 33 percent compared with the amount before the initiative started in May 2018.

As we learned through this internal initiative, igniting behavior change is the easy part; the hard part is keeping up the motivation over the long term. Following the extended leave during the month of Ramadan last year there was a spike in plastic waste reaching 2 kg as colleagues returned to the office in early July. The waning momentum two months into the initiative was further compounded by an Indonesian cultural practice of bringing gifts—or ‘oleh-oleh’ in Bahasa Indonesia—when returning from a long vacation. These gifts are usually snacks, most often wrapped in plastic. The difficulty the team had finding oleh-oleh that were plastic-free was a reminder how deeply ingrained plastic is in our local economy. Still, our office is slowly and steadily demonstrating collective change through individual habits. To keep the team motivated rather than adopting a culture of “name and shame,” we encouraged better environmental practices within our own organization through positive reinforcements, such as education and appreciation. In the past year, staff members who go above and beyond in seeking alternatives to single-use plastic have been recognized with awards during our team meetings.

Armed with experience and insights from our own office, the team has moved into the community, promoting solutions that address plastic pollution in Bali through a joint campaign called Pulau Plastik,’ or Plastic Island in English. In a partnership with Bali-based production house Akarumput, Pulau Plastik leverages popular culture—such as social media campaigns, short videos, public service announcements, and a feature-length documentary—in examining the issue of waste in Bali. The campaign aims to increase awareness on the hazards of single-use plastic and advocate relevant stakeholders to take action on the issue by highlighting stories of local champions behind real solutions. By catalyzing greater understanding of the plastic waste problem, Pulau Plastik and other behavioral change campaigns can support in further reducing single-use plastic consumption and improve waste separation, composting, and disposal by households. This is an important step in bolstering community activism and policy change.

By catalyzing greater understanding of the plastic waste problem, Pulau Plastik and other behavioral change campaigns can support in further reducing single-use plastic consumption and improve waste separation, composting, and disposal by households.

Since Kopernik began our internal waste management initiative and Pulau Plastik campaign in early 2018, we have seen major developments on the issue. The mayor of Denpasar, Bali’s capital city, has implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags in shops and convenience stores starting January 2019 as a way to curb mounting plastic waste in the province. This was followed by a provincial decree by the Bali government, which banned the use of plastic straws, styrofoam, and plastic bags in stores starting in June 2019. A wave of change has begun on the island. As the bans on single-use plastic are implemented, the task now is to continue educating and encouraging behavior change with practical solutions to reduce single-use plastic consumption at individual and household levels. Through the Pulau Plastik initiative, Kopernik is committed to encouraging residents of Bali and beyond to contribute to the global effort.

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