Indonesia Expat

Trash-free Superheroes

beach cleaners

Some superheroes fly or fight crime with extraordinary powers, but on Bali, local superheroes are helping to rid their communities of excessive trash and writer Karen Donald explains how.

Some Badung Regency officials are dressed as superheroes, and working hard to keep Kuta Beach “trash-free” at the same time reducing the 20-metre high trash dump at TPA Suwung before October when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Summit will be held on the resort island.

The Public Parks and Hygiene Department of Bali’s Badung Regency has adopted a unique way to clean debris from the shoreline in Kuta. Nine workers from the crew appeared on the white sand this past December dressed in various superhero costumes and one Santa Claus outfit. 

The superheroes comprising Superman, Batman, Spiderman and others, joined a range of heavy equipment and 400 other beach cleaners and who gather each morning to remove the rubbish which is brought to the shore each night by the prevailing westerly winds. Santa Claus was seen by tourists driving a front-end loader, moving trash heaps from the shore to waiting dump trucks.   


It’s the monsoon season in Indonesia, which means the water is a soupy sludge of plastic and the sand littered with Coke bottles, rubber sandals, crumpled plastic water cups and drinking straws. This harms marine life and causes discomfort for tourists who enjoy culinary delights along the shores, which in turn affects local income. Seasonal westerly winds from October to April bring great quantities of flotsam and jetsam to Bali’s western shores from outer islands. In addition, local trash comes down the rivers from Balinese villages, and is trapped on the beach. 

Bulldozers recently created towering piles of plastic, which disappeared before Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s visit to Bali in December, but there was more plastic tangled in the sand by the next day.

Those who earn their livelihoods from the tourist beaches also do their bit – the Kuta cowboys, masseuses, hair braiders and hawkers are seen raking up and collecting rubbish on a daily basis.


Badung Environmental Tram (DLHK), typically remove 125 tons of trash each day from Kuta and Kedonganan Beaches. However, the local government declared a “trash emergency” on Kuta and Legian beaches on several days over December. During the course of that time, the amount of trash that washed up on the beach each day reached over 50 tonnes. Most monsoon seasons see no more than five tonnes collected daily. A crew of 50 workers usually clean the eight-kilometre stretch of beach from Pererenan to Jimbaran on Bali’s southwestern coast, but by declaring emergency status authorities could mobilise an army of sweepers and during those five days 700 personnel were deployed to clean the beach.

Soon after the trash emergency was declared on Kuta and Legian beaches, local authorities erected a carefully-worded banner on Kuta beach: “We do apologise for this inconvenience, your visit interrupted by ‘natural phenomenon’ in the form of annual waste of west wind impact.”


Four of Indonesia’s rivers: Brantas, Solo, Serayu and Progo are listed in the top 20 most polluted rivers in the world. A World Bank study found that 21 percent of Indonesia’s litter consisted of diapers and, in August 2017, environmental activists called on people to stop dumping used diapers into the Brantas River in East Java.

Across Indonesia, roadside stalls sell individual shampoo sachets and people living in rural enclaves often bathe in rivers, discarding waste in them. Many also have the habit of sweeping trash directly into streams. Sealed plastic cups of water are served in restaurants and offices, and instant noodles in polystyrene cups are a national favourite. Even canang sari – the daily offerings Balinese Hindus place in temples or small shrines in houses to thank their supreme deity often contain plastic-wrapped items or are sold in plastic bags. This, coupled with poor or nonexistent solid waste management systems, has created the perfect environmental storm.

Many homes are without serviced garbage collection systems, or forgo paying, and plastic is flushed into the ocean. Awareness of the impact on tourism is growing slowly in Bali, an island that attracts five million visitors a year.


In 2016 a plastic bag tax of Rp.200 (two cents) was trialled in 23 cities across Indonesia. However, the Indonesian retailers association ended the trial later that year, waiting for the government to introduce official regulations. Currently a presidential decree is being considered that would enable the plastic bag tax to be returned to communities. The governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, also famously announced three years ago that Bali would be free from plastic bags by 2018, which is currently not the case. The two Balinese sisters behind the Bye Bye Plastic Bags campaign, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, decided to work with governments to implement a charge on plastic bags in Bali as a first step towards a total ban.

Meanwhile a number of schools, businesses and NGOs are coming up with innovative ways of tackling the scourge of waste. It is hoped that if rubbish is seen as a valuable commodity this will change the mindset of children at school.


The 2018 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group will take place in Nusa Dua, in October. This will be a great opportunity to showcase Indonesia’s impressive economic and social achievements: efforts are being made to reduce the overflowing dumpsite.

The tourist island’s main rubbish dump now covers 30 hectares, reaches 20 metres high in places, and 600 trucks bring another 1,544 tonnes to add to the pile daily. Bali’s government says the problem has now reached alarming levels; there are concerns about dangerous runoff. The garbage pile at the Suwung waste disposal centre is now visible from the main road that runs between Sanur and Kuta. As Bali’s tourism industry booms, public services are struggling to cope and the government is calling for investors to help deal with the issue.

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