Trash is seen in Gili Trawangan island, West Nusa Tenggara. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon)

Gili Trawangan Needs to Go on 'Plastic Diet'


JULY 26, 2016

Lombok. Every summer, thousands of tourists flock to the Gili Islands off the northern coast of Lombok for white sandy beaches and world-class snorkeling. But what most tourists don’t see during their vacations are the growing piles of trash around the island that the government is failing to regulate and locals can’t keep up with.

"If we don’t do something very soon Gili will be spoiled under waste," said Febriarti Khairunnisa, 32, co-founder of Bintang Sejahtera, a social enterprise that works to improve waste management and sustainability in Lombok a few weeks ago. "It will have a huge impact on the economy for tourism."

Although the government promised to improve the current systems last year, few actions have been taken to implement change. A number of local organizations have taken matters into their own hands to create a more sustainable future for Gili.

Delphine Robbe, a Gili-based diving instructor who also does volunteer work with the Gili Eco Trust — an NGO that works to preserve the environment in Gili — explained there is a dump on the island, but the recent boom in tourism has created too much trash for the dump to accommodate.

They collect up to 20 tons of rubbish per day, which is more than twice the amount they collected six years ago.

"The dump was a hole and now it's a hill three to four meters high," Robbe said.

Most trash at the dump is burned and releases toxic gases, harming people in the area. The cows that roam the island ingest trash from the dump, then people eat those cows, creating a continuous health problem.

gili trawangan trash

To fight this, the Gili Eco Trust, along with other organizations, is working to create a waste bank system to sort and process the trash rather than letting it pile up and burned.

The Eco Trust also holds weekly beach clean-ups around the island, inviting locals and tourists to participate in their activities. Once the trash is collected, they separate recyclable materials and make them into ashtrays, souvenirs and even bricks to build new structures on the island.

Recently, state-controlled Bank Mandiri gave a grant of Rp 700 million ($53,000) from their Corporate Social Responsibility budget towards Eco Trust, which they hope can be used to implement a waste pick-up system with small trucks, instead of using their current system which uses horse carts.

"A few small trucks could collect rubbish much faster," Robbe said. “Then we could spend more time separating and recycling, instead of collecting all day long with horses in a very poor state.”

Beyond finding better ways to manage waste on the island, these organizations are working to educate people about the urgency to reduce the amount of waste they create.

"Every single straw used, every single cup is still on the island," said Sian Williams, the co-founder of Seamade, a Gili Trawangan-based company that makes souvenirs from recycled materials.

"We usually find between 150 and 300 plastic straws per beach clean up. It's something tourists don't really see and we’re trying to raise awareness."

One way Gili Eco Trust hopes to raise awareness is by implementing a team of "green police" on the island to teach people about the impact of their trash and how they can make less of it. Sharing the knowledge in Gili is considered as an essential part as the island's income depends on tourism.

Robbe points out the need to reduce waste by using fewer plastic bags and encouraging the use of reusable cotton bags. Currently, the huge number of plastic bags used on Gili Trawangan either pile up in dumps and omit harmful gases when burned, or end up in the ocean and harm the wildlife that tourists come to see.

Febriarti agreed with Robbe, and said the key to solving this problem is through taking small steps toward reducing waste production on the island. She expressed the need for an "Awik-Awik," a local policy, to put plastic reduction rules into place.

"We need to implement, little by little, regulations that support a 'plastic diet,'" she said. "It's something easy everybody can do that can make a big difference."