Would you pay $14 to help stop Bali drowning in plastic?

Denpasar: Australians taking a holiday in Bali are facing a new $14-per-person tax when they arrive on the holiday island from next year.

But before you grumble about having to pay more to take a holiday, it's a tariff with a purpose: a green tax, which Bali Governor Wayan Koster has been working on for months, and which is designed to help clean up the island's natural environment.

And with good reason, too.

Indonesia is drowning in plastic.

A Kampung Akuarium residents walks through mountains of rubbish and rubble in the makeshift neighbourhood.Credit:Irwin Fedriansyah

From the polluted streets and rivers of Jakarta to the plastic-bag strewn beaches and forests of Bali, Indonesia's addiction to plastic packaging is plain to see.

Recycling is not one of the country's strong points. It's not uncommon to be offered many more plastic bags than one could ever need when visiting supermarkets and shopping malls.

But, slowly, things are starting to change for the better.

Back in 2016, the medium-sized city of Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, banned single-use plastic bags.

The city of Bogor and the capital of Bali, Denpasar, followed suit in 2018.

A few months ago, Koster announced a plan that would go one better – not only banning single-use plastic bags from so-called modern stores (supermarkets and convenience stores) – but plastic bags, straws and styrofoam packaging across the island, and from all outlets.

After six months leeway to allow for the adjustment, the regulation will come into full effect next month.

"We received a fast and quick response from the Balinese people. Not only positive from the Balinese, we received good responses from the central government, other local governments and even from overseas. The millennials, they fully support it," Koster told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age this week during an exclusive interview.

Bali Governor Wayan KosterCredit:Amilia Rosa

"So now in modern markets, traditional markets, homes, [during religious] rituals and in other daily activities, people have responded very quickly by no longer using plastic bags, plastic straws or styrofoam," he says.

"The response has been very good."

New industries that produce paper straws, bags made out of cassava and other natural materials are springing up.

Koster speaks passionately about sustainable development on the island, which each year welcomes 30 to 40 per cent of Indonesia's international visitors (including more than a million Australians and a million Chinese tourists), despite being home to just a tiny fraction of Indonesia's population.

The newish governor is an avowed environmentalist and he has more laws planned to protect the island's waterways, in particular, and to support the introduction of electric vehicles too.

That's where $14 green tax (it's actually set at $US10) comes in – assuming the central government approves its introduction. It was first flagged in November 2018.

"We need to preserve Bali's nature and environment. We need to preserve our culture…we have to preserve it for our future generations. We do not have enough funds to do the policies. So we thought tourists, foreign and domestic, could contribute to the preservation [of the environment]," he says.

"I am hoping we can introduce it [the tax] by next year."

Fresh produce wrapped in banana leaves tied with bamboo string – not plastic – in Bali’s Bintang supermarket.Credit:Amilia Rosa

It's not all one way, either. In addition to funding his programs, some of the money raised by the green tax will provide better security and services for tourists, too.

But Koster's plan to ban single-use plastic on Bali has also met with resistance.

The Indonesian Plastic Recycling Association and other groups are challenging the ban in Jakarta's Supreme Court, arguing the ban on single-use plastic contravenes national regulations on waste management and on human rights – that is, the right to work.

The governor is defiant, and confident he will win the legal case.

"It's not a problem, I will face it. I have a lot of people defending it. The Minister of Environment, the central government, environmental activists. A lot of supporters," he says.

The move away from plastics is gathering pace. The popular Bintang supermarket, on the busy Jalan Raya Seminyak thoroughfare, has in recent months taken another initiative.

Bintang supermarket manager Kastrianto poses with fresh produce wrapped in banana leaves, not plastic.Credit:Amilia Rosa

The supermarket (another branch operates in Ubud) has begun substituting banana leaves for plastic wrapping for some of its fresh produce – though plastic, of course, still dominates packaging in the store.

Supermarket manager Kastrianto says the store started using banana leaves in April, and it has gone down a treat – and it saves money too.

"We get many questions about it, but all our customers are happy about it. It's healthy, it's green," he says.

Tourists Kay Kay Mlangeni and Caley Steinert, from South Africa and Canada, say they have already noticed the absence of plastic bags in Bali in convenience stores. The banana leaves initiative is a welcome one, too.

But for all the good vibes, has the plastic-bag ban actually had any impact in its first few months?

Caley Steinert and Kay Kay Mlangeni shop for fresh produce, which has been wrapped in banana leaves instead of plastics at Bintang supermarket.Credit:Amilia Rosa

According to 2017 statistics, the province of Bali produced 10,849 cubic metres of waste each day, with 60 per cent of that organic, 30 per cent non-organic and 10 per cent residual.

Koster says a preliminary study shows that prior to the regulation being introduced, about five tonnes of plastic waste was collected each month in Bali.

Now it's 700 to 800 kilograms per month.

If the $14-per-person green tax can help shrink that number even more, it will be money well spent.

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