Volunteer Abroad: Keep Bali Beautiful

Support the grassroots organization of Keep Bali Beautiful to tackle the plastic pollution problem in Bali. Hosted by a great team with an incredible mission.

I first got involved in addressing the plastic problem in Bali during my time volunteering with Trash Hero around the island. But, I wanted to do more than just pick up trash and be a part of a solution. That’s what led me to work with Keep Bali Beautiful.

Keep Bali Beautiful is a grassroots organization, started by locals who were fed up with the pollution. It is the best way to support a local solution to the plastic problem that is destroying the natural beauty of Bali. 

Through volunteering with this group, you too can learn about the local perspective, support the initiatives on the ground, and make forever friends with this group of sweet people making it all happen!

Water bottle and trash washed up on the beach in Bali

Table of Contents

Learn more about eco-tourism; what it is, what it's not, and how you can get involved!

Environmental Problems in Bali

Bali has been a hot destination for years, partly because of its intense beauty, but also for tourism’s astounding negative impact on the local culture and environment. You probably have seen the picturesque rice fields and waterfalls in the dense jungle…but what you may not have seen is the piles of burning trash and plastic waste clogging the waterways.

Bali has been a victim of over-tourism, mostly since the 2010 release of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, since this is the magical island where Julia Roberts goes to ‘love’. Overtourism has solutions, and we as travelers have the ability and responsibility to be a part of them.

It’s often said that most of the plastic trash in Bali comes from the locals, but it is the locals trying to keep up with tourism that creates the excess waste. That, coupled with the lack of waste education, government intervention, and a proper disposal system creates a never-ending flow of trash into the environment, and straight into the ocean.

Watch Plastic Island on Netflix to learn more about Indonesia's plastic problems

Keep Bali Beautiful

Keep Bali Beautiful is a true local initiative. Created in the East Bali village of Tangkas, a local man named Darmawan took action to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the waterways. Volunteering with this organization is the best eco-friendly things to do in Bali!

Keep Bali Beautiful is a grassroots recycling program that partners with local schools and villages to build a sustainable recycling network, as well as to change the beliefs and habits that lead to pollution.

A simple process of collecting trash from local people daily, sorting out the organics from the inorganics, and then selling the plastic waste for profit on Java makes this a replicable and practical solution. 

A group of 8 people working with Keep Bali Beautiful standing on the beach with bags of collected trash in Bali

My Experience

I reached out to Keep Bali Beautiful before I even got on the island. This was an organization I was interested in for years, but their tours and volunteering opportunities were stopped because of COVID. 

Green logo with rice field and trees for Keep Bali Beautiful

Luckily, when I was back on this magical island they were just re-starting their operations, and we had the honor of being the first volunteers back to support their wonderful work! Although it was a long 2-hour drive from our place in Amed, transport across Bali was easy and the drive was beautiful! 

We arrived at 9:00 am and were met by the cheerful guide, Komang. He welcomed us into a traditional Balinese home, owned by the organization’s founder, Darmawan. We sat for coffee and traditional Balinese coconut & banana treats and went over the plan for the day, which would include:

  • Prayer at the Pura Watu Klotok temple
  • 30-minute beach cleanup
  • Planting seeds at the organics processing facility
  • Plastic sorting at the main facility
  • Traditional Balinese lunch
  • Crafting from waste plastic

We were lucky to go on a day when a village ceremony was happening, so the temple was packed! There was music, vendors selling food, and everyone in traditional clothing, and so fun to see everything in action. 

Group of people sitting on the ground in a temple in Bali

Beach Cleanup

After we were in the temple, we headed to the beach with our bamboo tongs and collection bags, really to start cleaning! Although the beach was small – only 100 meters long – it was filled with trash!! We started from one end and worked our way down collecting what we could.

As we slowly made our way down the beach, so many locals came up to ask what we were doing, thank us for our time, or help us collect! The best were the kids – a group of boys came up and were so excited to help out.

They were constantly picking up bottles, coconuts, sticks, and plastic wrappers, asking which goes in the bag. It just shows how difficult it is for them to distinguish what is natural in the environment, vs. what is trash when this is all they’ve ever known. 

Two young Balinese boys standing on a beach with a bag of trash collection

Organics & Seed Planting

We all piled back into the pick-up truck to head over to the sortation center where the organics are collected and processed into mulch. We talked with a few of the women working here and got to work planting some pepper plants! 

It was great to see the working conditions and meet the kind people making it all happen. From the Keep Bali Beautiful organization, there is no waste. Even the organics that get collected are processed into nutrient-rich mulch and provided to the local farmers.

Plastic Sorting at the Keep Bali Beautiful Facility

We then went to the main facility where all the action happened.

Daily, trucks will go through the village and collect waste from the local people. This includes plastic bags, wrappers, trash, offerings, coconut shells, and more! There is a team of 5 people working who manually sift through the piles to pull out the inorganic materials.

They follow a structured process to separate cans, thin plastic (bags, wrappers), clothing, and rubber. Each waste stream has its own value when it is sold for recycling. 

The waste is brought to Java, where suppliers will purchase the materials and use them for further processing into furniture, recycle, and more.

Zero Waste Crafts

We headed back to Darmawan’s home where we were greeted with a delicious traditional lunch of nasi goreng, fried bananas, tofu, and fresh fruit. We got to sit and talk with his family and the group leaders to learn more about their lives and goals.

Shortly after we finished, we met with another team member – an expert in turning trash into useful creations. He wore a shoulder bag made entirely from food wrappers woven together and would teach us a bit of the skill behind his creations.

We turned soft plastic trash from laundry detergent into fish! It was such a cute idea, and I can’t wait to use this in future crafting classes with kids.

Pieces of plastic with scissors are used for a zero waste craft with the Keep Bali Beautiful group

Get Involved

When you’re in Bali, supporting the Keep Bali Beautiful is the best way to support action to address the plastic pollution that is plaguing the island.

Tourists and travelers have such a big opportunity to be a part of the solution. By supporting the initiatives of locals, donating your time and money, and educating yourselves on environmental issues, tourism can be a force for good.

Summary - Volunteering with Keep Bali Beautiful

My experience with Keep Bali Beautiful was enriching, educational, and purposeful, and one I recommend to anyone visiting this beautiful island.

It is impossible to travel to Bali and stay ignorant of the plastic problem that litters the streets and beaches. We as tourists have such an impactful role to support local initiatives and be a part of the solution.

Keep Bali Beautiful is a grassroots organization that has developed a closed-loop process to tackle the waste problem in Bali. Until there is additional government support, these organizations rely on outside involvement and support, so make sure to fit a tour with Keep Bali Beautiful into your Bali itinerary!

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Posted by Taylor Mallaber

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