When the COVID-19 pandemic limited human connection and disrupted everyday life, human unity and kindness were more valuable than ever. Since the confirmation of its first case in February 2020, Indonesia has recorded more than 4 million coronavirus cases and over 140,000 deaths. The prevalence of COVID-19 in Bali, in particular, harmed the nation’s economy, resulting in a growth in hunger. Fortunately, a new community-based program seeks to help hunger in Bali by helping individuals experiencing food insecurity while also combatting plastic waste.
Effects of COVID-19 on Bali’s Economy
Tourism is an important facet of Bali’s economy. Before the pandemic, Bali welcomed over 6 million visitors per year. However, until the rates of COVID-19 in Bali had sufficiently lowered, tourists could not visit the island. While Bali’s travel ban intended to keep people safe, hunger in Bali grew due to this financial halt. Approximately 92,000 people who worked in the tourism industry were laid off during the pandemic, having little to no means of supporting their families. With this complete loss of income, many tourism employees turned to agricultural business to make ends meet, though workers would sometimes only get $4 a day, barely enough to purchase a single bucket of rice.
Development of Plastic Exchange
Vegan restaurant owner Made Janur Yasa saw the grueling circumstances of unemployed people in his home village of Ubud. He wanted to use and donate his services and resources as sustainably as possible to avoid creating more plastic waste in an already excessively polluted place. Yasa explained to CNN, “I got to thinking, inside the challenge, there is an opportunity.” Thus, the impetus and conception for Plastic Exchange or Plastic for Rice were born. Yasa’s initiative, Plastic Exchange, isn’t just a means of feeding families who couldn’t afford rice, though. It encourages participants to travel down to their local parks and beaches to collect plastic waste. Plastic Exchange upholds three core values: dignity, prosperity, and environment. The first value of dignity is a noteworthy cause, as it is important to sustain a sense of self-worth in individuals who suffered the economic effects of COVID-19 in Bali. Its second core value ties in nicely with the first since people cannot thrive in their environment unless their most fundamental needs are met. Lastly, the hands-on initiative towards alleviating Bali’s plastic waste problem teaches citizens the importance of caring for their planet, reiterating that sustainability is achievable in the direst of circumstances.
Plans for Plastic Exchange
According to a report from the Bali Tribune, in August of 2021, a Plastic Exchange initiative in a village called Saba collected two tons of plastic within a timeframe of two hours. The positive results from plastic exchange programs have inspired Indonesian villagers to embrace small-scale acts as catalysts for large-scale sustainable improvements. Not only is this exchange of plastic an excellent means of recycling — Yasa sends the plastic waste to the island of Java, with a tremendous amount of infrastructure — but it is also a means of stabilizing the island’s economy. Local rice farmers and planters receive a more consistent income again as islanders can afford larger rice supplies again, which also combats high hunger rates in Bali. With more than 500 tons of plastic collected, Yasa is eager to take his successful initiative and encourage its operation in other Indonesian villages and potentially other countries as well.
Plastic Exchange’s website opens with a sped-up count of how many Bali villages have participated in the program, how many kilograms of plastic were collected, and how many kilograms of rice were distributed. It is overwhelming in the best way possible. There is also a PayPal link to donate towards the cause. For example, a $50 donation can buy 50kg of rice that feeds 200 people per day. Ultimately, plastic exchanges are a promising solution to end hunger and plastic waste in Bali.
– Maia Nuñez