Recently I was fortunate enough to take a quick getaway to Bali with my wife. Upon our return, I was struggling with how to respond to the question: “How was your holiday?” While the week off allowed me to do nothing but sit on a beach and relax, I saw copious amounts of rubbish everywhere which tarnished the experience.
For those who are unaware, tap water in Indonesia isn’t safe for human consumption. Even the ice in your cocktail could result in a bad case of “Bali belly!” Bottled water is the only source that’s safe for consumption and while the cost is relatively cheap (about $1AU for a 500mL bottle) the waste that’s generated through plastic bottles is astronomical. I saw an advertisement for reusable stainless steel bottles which stated that 30 million plastic bottles are used each month in Bali alone. Unfortunately, the majority of these plastic bottles are not recycled – they end up strewn along beaches, floating in the ocean or clogging up local waterways. This isn’t limited to plastic bottles – generally there was rubbish everywhere. For me the turning point was when I saw a used nappy float past while I was swimming in the ocean! Needless to say, I got out of there quick-smart! Seeing the beautiful environment treated like a dumping ground tainted the relaxing holiday. The ABC recently published an article about how “a remote and uninhabited island wilderness in the South Pacific is literally a garbage dump.”
Of course (and thankfully) I am generalising and there were cases where a conscious effort to recycle and improve the local conditions. On the island of Gili Meno, we saw a villager who had recycled plastic bottles into the fence surrounding his house. Upon closer inspection we realised the bottles were also filled with plastic bags and other rubbish. The owner explained to us that he employed some of the homeless to collect the rubbish to educate the possibilities and importance of recycling.
Back home, it’s great to see that bins are finally back around the Fortitude Valley train station. Until recent weeks, bins had been absent from the train station platforms since the G20 Summit which was held way back in November 2014. Initially removed for safety precautions, the bins remained absent for the next two and a half years which saw benches constantly covered in rubbish. While I can certainly understand the safety implications for removing the bins in the first place, the fact it took so long to put them back is what I don’t understand. I certainly don’t condone littering however it’s also unreasonable to expect commuters to carry their rubbish all the way home on the train.
I live in a six-pack apartment block and am bemused at times with what I find in the recycling bins – plastic bags and food scraps are the common culprits. I usually put this down to laziness however I think education is also a key factor here. People may not be aware that you can’t recycle plastic bags or that the yellow lids mean they’re a recycling bin. While Australia is doing a lot more than other countries, I think we still have a long way to go in terms of education about waste generation and recycling.
One of the finest examples of public education was Brisbane City Council’s campaign for water restrictions. Billboards, television and radio advertisements were everywhere encouraging the community to save every drop. And it worked! ABC’s ‘War on Waste’ highlights our wastefulness as a country and tries to get to the bottom of what we can do to change our attitudes towards waste generation. After watching the first episode, I was genuinely shocked at some of the statistics and tactics that resulted in such huge amounts of rubbish and discarded food.
Now those people who know me are aware that I’m definitely not a ‘hippie,’ but I think we could all do a better at getting the basics right and keeping Australia beautiful.
 (Cooper, 2017)
 (ABC, 2017)
Cooper, D. (2017, May 16). Remote South Pacific island has highest levels of plastic rubbish in the world. Retrieved from ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-05-16/plastic-pollution-on-henderson-island-in-south-pacific/8527370
ABC. (2017, May). War on Waste. Retrieved from ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/waronwaste/
Insight by Michael Ellis – Associate at POWE Architects
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Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of POWE Architects.