During a research trip for a master’s degree in 2016, I found beaches close to the Senggigi tourist region to be littered with waste. Five beaches and near-shore waters at five places along the Lombok coastline, from Bangsal (a port north of Senggigi) to Melase Beach (five kilometres south of Senggigi), were surveyed along 100-metre transects. Refuse was found to originate mainly from plastic food and drink containers sold in the local area, suggesting that in this part of Indonesia local waste disposal practices may be more problematic than waste being washed up from shipping, industries or other countries.
Density of waste particles (of length greater than two centimetres) found on beaches close to Sengiggi township during the study averaged from 9.3 to 18.3 items per square metre. This is as dense as that found elsewhere on heavily polluted beaches in Indonesia, such as in Ambon, and more generally across the world. During the dry season, comparatively little waste was found floating in the seawater. I found instead that discarded waste in Senggigi clogged up the waterways, waiting until the next heavy rain could wash it on to the beaches and out into the ocean.
Although there is much waste polluting the shores of Lombok, there is a growing awareness of the problem. Local non-government community organisations are now leading the way to more sustainable waste management.
When pollution hits home
Inadequate waste disposal on Lombok’s beaches and seas causes untold problems. Aquatic wildlife eats waste products, or become entangled in them, resulting in the death of turtles, birds, fish and even large mammals such as dolphins. Persistent bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs) derived from waste are consumed by fish which are then caught for human consumption. Already researchers have found fish contaminated with plastics being sold in markets in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The effects of this contamination on both the fish and those eating them are largely unknown. Waste floating on the sea, and deposited on land, produces visual, environmental and economic impacts for locals who may be dependent on fishing and tourism for their livelihoods.
Over time, waste – particularly plastic waste – breaks down into smaller pieces and spreads over wide areas. This makes removal very difficult. The most effective way to reduce the effects of waste is likely to be limiting the amount of waste produced in the first place. This is particularly important for Lombok, as I found on a recent research trip, where much waste is of local origin and so is amenable to local community mitigation efforts.
Local points of view
On Lombok there are varied responses to questions about waste disposal. Many blame the government for not acting. Others believe they have little personal control over what happens to waste. Very few residents display awareness of the consequences of dumping waste in waterways. For Lombok to escape the worst effects of waste pollution, as seen in Bali and other parts of Indonesia, an education and awareness program informing stakeholders of the longer term impacts of inadequate solid waste disposal is imperative.
‘Many people just dump their garbage here in the street’ says a local Senggigi hotel manager. He looks at the floating plastic waste filling a drain in front of his hotel. ‘This is not good for me and my guests’ he explains. ‘They don’t care’ says a village resident when asked about garbage being dumped in the streets. A local village official says ‘I tell the people not to dump in the drains and on the beaches but they still do it’.
On the sandy beach near Senggigi, a local fisherman explains his dumping of garbage directly on to the beach. ‘Villagers get angry if we dump our garbage on their land up from the beach. I have no place to bury it so I dump it here – I have too much to burn. The government gave us a bin but they don’t empty it much and the hotel fills it.’
In the past waste was burned but, more recently, plastic has become the most persistent waste product found, and is difficult to burn. An officer from the Parks and Cleanliness Department at Senggigi explains ‘Only hotels pay for garbage collection. No pay, no service. Only some pay.’
From interviews of local stakeholders, there appeared to be generally little appreciation or knowledge of the impacts of waste on the environment and economy of the area. In contrast, those who are closely involved in tourism activities such as diving, hotels, and restaurants, appear to be more aware of the waste problem and its impact on economic development.
On the Lombok mainland, the privately operated waste management company Bintang Sejahtera has introduced an island-wide waste management system to reduce pollution. The organisation believes waste threatens the environment, marine life and tourism and so they have introduced the concept of ‘bank sampah’ (‘waste bank’) a way of turning waste into cash. ‘We have full-time staff and volunteers across Lombok, and local people are paid for washing, cleaning and processing waste into objects for sale’ says the manager of the Mataram office of Bank Sampah Bintang Sejahtera (BSBS), where handicrafts are made and sold. The organisation promotes the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste, and shares information with schools, communities, businesses and government institutions. Handicrafts made from waste are sold and the profits used to promote awareness of waste pollution. Other waste can be sold to commercial recycling operations on Bali and Java. ‘We have 27 big collection bins across Lombok for rubbish,’ the manager says.
Meanwhile, on the offshore island of Gili Trawangan, the Gili Eco Trust has been set up to represent stakeholders from the tourism industry. The NGO was established in 2000 by (largely foreign) dive operators to protect the coral reefs. Among its stakeholders now are owners of tourism businesses and dive shops both foreign and Indonesian owned. The goal is to tackle garbage at its source – locally produced solid waste. Funding is derived from a small levy imposed by dive shops on tourists. The Gili Eco Trust has become the central coordinating body for marine conservation on Gili Trawangan. It carries out beach clean-up activities and encourages the recycling of cans, cardboard and plastic bottles. ‘We encourage our clients to pick up plastic from the corals during their dives’ says a dive instructor who was a founding member of the trust
Working closely with Gili Eco Trust on Gili Trawangan has been another community-based organisation – the Front Masyarakat Peduli Lingkungan (Front for Community Care for the Environment) – that directly collects waste from businesses on the island. They also promote recycling of more valuable waste which, when sorted, is transported to mainland Lombok where recoverable material is sold. On the island of Gili Air, most waste is bagged nightly and transported to Lombok by barge where some is recycled and the remainder sent to a dump near Mataram.
On the bright side
Waste found in drains, waterways, along roads and on beaches in the Senggigi district has been found to be mainly of local origin. Therefore, efforts of local communities to better manage waste are likely to have significant impacts. Local community organisations such as the BSBS and the Gili Eco Trust are closer to the problems of pollution, and so better placed for the solutions. Their activities contribute to improving awareness of the problems facing local stakeholders. The Gili Eco Trust, for example, has had much success on Gili Trawangan in encouraging composting of waste and better waste collection services for local businesses and residents.
Remedial measures could also include an awareness campaign aimed at younger residents, and more environmentally sustainable landfill sites. I found dumps across the district to be in poor condition, uncovered and unlined. Toxic materials can then migrate down to the water table during rain and contaminate drinking water wells. Collection services also need significant improvement. Funding of such services is costly but already community-based organisations are establishing creative opportunities. Improving educational programs to increase citizen demand for improved waste management services may bring about change in government priorities.
There are many challenges on Lombok when dealing with waste pollution; however, there is a possibility that well-informed local community organisations may help save the day.
Gary Forsdike (Gary.Forsdike@research.usc.edu.au) is an Australian researcher at the University of the Sunshine Coast in the faculties of Arts and Business, and Science, and was in Lombok recently researching coastal pollution and public attitudes towards waste.