My Experience: Being a Trash Hero in Bali

Learn about the incredible impact made by Trash Hero in Bali, where local volunteers are fighting to clean-up beaches from the plastic pollution crisis!

While exploring the tropical paradise of Bali, it’s hard to ignore the heaping piles of trash that were washing up on the beaches or physically burning along rural roadsides. As my heart hurt for the ecosystems that thrived on this island (and for the lungs of the locals who didn’t know any better), I knew there had to be a way to help.

I quickly dove into researching an organization that is targeting this problem, and joined Trash Hero in Bali, an incredible organization that is doing great work around the world to address our waste crisis.

Check out my experience and how you can get involved in our fight against plastic pollution!

Collected trash from the beach in Bali

Table of Contents

Environmental Problems in Bali

Bali has been a hot topic for a destination for years, partly because of its intense beauty, and 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 overtourism, 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.

Indonesia, along with many other South-East Asian countries accepted trash from the USA, Canada, and Australia, and would sort it to find valuable materials for resale. However, what is not used is often dumped, and with torrential rain and currents, the trash floods the natural environment. Plastic and debris plague the nation’s beautiful landscape, with no confident end in sight.

Trash collected on the beaches of Bali, shown in the hand of a volunteer

Watch the 'Plastic Island' documentary to learn more about the plastic pollution crisis in Bali.

Trash Hero Organization

Trash Hero Mission

1. Action and Awareness. The volunteers pick up trash and motivate others to do the same. By spending a few hours together cleaning up, people gain a profound understanding of the need to reduce and better manage waste.
2. Education. Trash Hero engages children through our multilingual kids’ program, connecting environmental values with hands-on experience of the impact that plastic trash has on the ocean. Adults learn through doing, with activities and workshops provided by the volunteers.
3. Sustainable Projects. Volunteers create long-term programs that help communities reduce and better manage existing waste and strategies that will prevent future waste.
4. Inspiration. The organization motivates people to break free from plastic and become Trash Heroes in their everyday lives. With consistently positive messaging and a philosophy of “small steps”, they seek to remove the barriers to change and normalize a vision of a zero-waste world.

Trash Hero Logo

Trash Hero is a global organization involved in educating and inspiring the world on our environmental impact. 

Trash Hero hosts community clean-up events, has established a water refill network, and is active in the global conversation towards a sustainable future.

I got with some friends from the hostel we were staying at and headed over to Pantai Batu Bolong beach (the main area in Canggu). We met up with the rest of the group – a total of 17 people, travelers, and Balinese locals came out to support!

We received a quick rundown of the collection process, how to use the crafty homemade bamboo grabber tools to pick up the trash, and how the recyclables should be sorted separately. Once we had our equipment and knew the plan, we went off in pairs to start collecting for the next hour! 

It was amazing how quickly our eyes started to recognize the pieces of trash hidden among the sand. At first, it seemed like there wasn’t much to collect, but then we started to distinguish the bottle caps from the sticks, and the thousand tiny styrofoam beads (from a broken bean bag we later found).


While we wove in and out of the beachgoers finding cigarette butts and plastic pieces, most of the problem was localized next to the stands that were selling cold Leo’s and fresh coconuts. Behind their bamboo structures were piles, and more piles of trash. Some of it was on fire, and some of it was washed away into a stream, later to be swept into the ocean. We picked up what we could, but the fumes from the burning petrochemicals made it tough to breathe. 

Picking up trash with Trash Hero in Bali
Behind the scenes at the beach

Although trash collection feels like a reactionary response to an environmental problem, it starts a chain reaction among people recognizing the change that needs to happen. During the 1 hour clean-up, at least 6 vacationers or workers helped pick up things near them to put in my bag and many locals thanked us for our service to keep their home clean. 

But think about how many people on the beach saw us with our gloves and tongs sifting through the sand. Think about how many of them stopped and thought twice about flicking their cigarette on the ground, or making sure to not leave anything behind for people like us to have to clean up.

Trash collection doesn’t solve the problem, but it creates a social statement that there is a problem, and we can be a part of the solution.

At the end of the hour, 17 people collected 64 kg (141 lbs) of trash and 11 kg (24 lbs) of recyclables. I had such an incredible time, met new friends, and felt like I made a difference, so I returned the following week with even more people ready to clean the beaches!

Trash Hero in Bali group photo

Get Involved

Joining a beach clean-up is one of many eco-friendly activities in Bali. Trash Hero has over 100 chapters worldwide in 12 different countries, the majority of these locations are in the SE Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar, where plastic pollution is a serious problem. 

There are many ways to get involved, and the best part is volunteering is completely FREE to join! Check out the chapter locations to see where you can support, or donate now to fund the amazing work that is being done on the ground!

Are you in Canggu, Bali? Meet the team every SUNDAY @ 4:30 pm near Old Man’s!

Q&A With Canggu Chapter Leader

After the clean-up, I chatted with the group leader, Sebastian. A Scandinavian traveler who married a Balinese woman and has been living on the island since 2020. He has been a part of Trash Hero chapters since 2018 and is proud of the growth the organization has made in recent years. 

Hear his thoughts on ways travelers can make an impact and his first-hand experience with the plastic problem in Bali!

1. What are the best ways Tourists can support the environment while they travel?

Avoid using single-use plastic when you can. Reducing our use as a consumer is possible for anyone to do, and it gives the message to the business owners that I don’t want this wasteful product. Bring a reusable bottle and bag with you! All it takes is a bit of preparation and thoughtfulness to avoid the single-use waste.

2. Do you think the Indonesian Government is going enough to address the plastic problem?

They banned single-use plastics (straws & bags) in 2017, but that’s not enough. There is no enforcement with business owners or consumers. The local authorities haven’t been involved at all since tourism brings in so much money.  Hopefully, with the crackdown on corruption, these laws can be better enforced. 

3. How can travelers get involved in Bali besides joining a cleanup?

Hold businesses accountable; your money as a traveler goes a long way here! Ask restaurants why they still have straws even though they’re banned, ask your hotel about its efforts towards low waste, and talk about it with other travelers. Just like this group did today, if you see an opportunity to bring awareness to it, the strength in numbers can change the world.

4. What Do You Love About Working With Trash Hero?

I love that it gets the locals out here with travelers, everyone together fighting the same fight. I’ve seen a lot of connections made during the clean-ups and we can’t do this alone!

Learn more ways you can be an eco-friendly traveler in Bali!

Summary - Trash Hero in Bali

It often takes witnessing a problem to realize that there are solutions out there. Seeing (and smelling) the plastic waste around Bali was enough to send me in a whirlpool of action, learning about the problem and partnering with organizations helping on the ground. Trash Hero is an amazing global organization, and I can’t wait to work with them again when I’m near one of their many chapter locations!

This is also a reminder to be aware of the environmental degradation that is occurring near you, and take action to be a part of the solution.

Posted by Taylor Mallaber

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