The Litany of Litter

A new generation of young people is calling out to their parents and grandparents to wake up! But, are we listening, and if we are, are we listening hard enough? After all, littering is not new!

“There is apparently a feeling”, a Times correspondent wrote in 1925, “that a place dedicated to the people (parks) has not really passed into the possession and usufruct [right to enjoy other people’s property] of the people unless they are allowed to do exactly as they please in it… to leave behind them any rubbish which they are too lazy to conceal or take home with them.

In 2013, Timothy Cooper blogged at History Environment Future:

“One landed MP complained of finding a family out picnicking on his drive about to “leave behind them a mountain of mess”. When asked to take their refuse with them the father of the group replied, “if you can afford a place like this, you can afford to have somebody pick up the mess”. This was not mindless vandalism, this was a very deliberate act of resistance to private property.”

I am not suggesting we drop all the other crucial issues that clamour for attention – wars in the Middle East, poverty, child abuse, inequality, ebola, AIDS … the list goes on, and is at times, overwhelming. It is true that as individuals, we can’t fix everything on the planet.

Let’s look at when we started to get interested in the West about pollution. Not just the plastic bag type of pollution, but the type that swiftly wipes out hundreds and thousands of people.After WWII and perilous radioactive fallout, we realised it wasn’t cool to blow things up mindlessly. That was quickly forgotten as the United States doused Vietnam with agent orange, and Russia managed to have a nuclear power plant explode, the effects of both actions still evident today. Then the Great Smog of 1952 in London killed over 8,000 people, prompting the Clean Air Act (1956).

Fast forward to the earthquake off Japan a couple of years ago, and one wonders if lessons were learned. Countries in the west began to take action. America, Australia and Canada all began campaigns of varied descriptions, and wrote new environmental acts to govern the way we treated our surroundings, mostly known as EPA’s, or Environmental Protection Acts.

The UK led the way in 1958 with The Litter Act. Groups formed to enforce the ideal. Slowly generations began to change. Aware of rubbish creeping into life-giving river systems and the ocean, destroying the country they were promoting to the outside world, Australia got behind Bin It (a small device on disposable packaging) that followed the Keep Australia Beautiful campaign that began in 1972.  (16 years after the UK had adopted it and a decade after America.)

A whole generation grew up, shamed into placing rubbish in the bin, instead of out of the car window or at the local creek.  We began recycling. Children taught their parents how to separate waste, and waste was turned into wealth as entrepreneurs recognised its value.

Head on over to Bali, a small island in Indonesia, which has a population of over four million, plus around 10 million tourists a year. With no waste disposal systems, limited water supply, essential river systems being clogged with refus,e and a population that on a daily basis exceeds its capacity to supply, the island is heaving under the load.  Literally.

I first noticed this in 2001 when I began writing The Bootongs of Bali and the Kingdom of Ducktopia, but at that stage, took little note. Instead, I wanted to create a fantasy – ducks on an adventure across the island. When I picked it up again in 2013, I realised that the island had changed so much in just 12 years. I’d already journeyed around Bali as I wrote and compiled Bali Soul Journals, and it was evident that not only the island was struggling, but the locals were at a loss as to what to do. Perhaps a family of ducks could help explain what was happening to a new generation?

Two young ladies inspired me to finish it. In Bali in 2013, two young sisters Melati and Isabel, began the group Bye Bye Plastic Bags. They committed to gathering one million signatures that will prompt the Governor of Bali to ban bags on the island. In November 2014, with the realisation that a million was a “really, really big number”, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with him, signalling that they are getting attention. And at the same time, giving us hope.

Visitors to Bali often remark on the volume of rubbish, the lack of waste control, the apparent disregard for the environment. Countless guests try to help fix it. But with a deteriorating situation in the west, following decades of education, the problem is no longer as simple as putting rubbish in the bin. River systems are collapsing under the weight of it. Land is being cleared and relocated next to the already struggling waterways. And it has been predicted that by 2015, water availability will reach crisis level.

It’s not just tourism causing the overflow. Balinese have always utilised most of their trash. Much of it decomposed naturally. But with population growth locally, from other parts of Indonesia, and tourism … this is a very new order indeed. It took almost two generations to educate Australians. The learning has only recently begun in Bali

So what can you do to help?

  • Sign the Bye Bye Plastic Bags petition! Every signature helps! Share it with your friends. Sometimes, the smallest of actions can have a longer term, lasting result.

  • Bring your own shopping bags to Bali. Hand out recycle bags to store owners. (You might need to explain that they are for their customers!)

  • Turn off air conditioning when you leave your room.

  • Bring a sports bottle for water and fill up at the hotel.

Even with a little awareness, if nine or ten million of us all did these little things, it could amount to millions fewer plastic bottles used, millions fewer plastic bags given out. It’s a start.We’ve been living with the issue of pollution for decades. We can’t solve it all by ourselves. Shutting down production, managing the waste we create – that is one massive task across multiple global borders.

But we can reach out to our youth, show them we are listening, and at least doing something.


Clare McAlaney is author of the conscious travel book, Bali Soul Journals. Her new book, The Bootongs of Bali and the Kingdom of Ducktopia, is available from December 15 at www.creatavisionpublishing.com.

Both books guide you into the heart of Bali, its heartache as it rapidly changes and modernises, and offer a glimmer of hope that together, we can start to save the planet and its people. One island at a time.


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