Find out how a group of enthusiastic individuals is helping keep the holiday island of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia free from rubbish and plastic. With over 15 million tonnes of plastic recovered from the beaches till date, they will stop at nothing to keep this paradise plastic free!
Read on to find out how…
The Happy Turtle Team in Conversation with Sian Williams from Gili Eco Trust:
Q: What is Gili Eco Trust?
Sian: Gili Eco Trust is a not for profit organisation set up in 2002 on Gili Trawangan to help restore damaged coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Since then, it has moved efforts to a lot of land based projects, long term education and goals of achieving an island rich in sustainable tourism and zero waste initiatives. We work with local and western businesses to consult and offer advice to minimise impact on the environment whilst picking up and processing rubbish from many of the businesses on the island.
Q: What is the work Gili Eco Trust does in terms of curbing Plastic Pollution?
Sian: We focus on creating a value for plastic waste to ensure it is never seen as ‘waste’ or ‘pollution’ again. We have set up a recycling scheme and a cash-for-trash initiative where local collectors can bring their plastics and recyclables to a rubbish bank and sell it. This creates more work from collecting the rubbish and from here, we process and sort it and send it to Lombok (the main bigger island close to the Gili islands) for recycling.
Q: How did the plastic-free movement begin in Gili Trawangan?
Sian: Awareness campaigns and an increased interest amongst tourists and divers. We started regular beach clean-ups on Friday afternoons in 2013, with organisation SeaMade, as a social event combining the dive community, tourists, business owners and staff to clean up the beach and enjoy a free drink. Since then we have retrieved around 5 tonnes of marine debris every year and have collected data and statistics on certain plastics and rubbish types to raise awareness in consumers.
In 2016 when the Gili Eco Trust started to collect and manage waste from island businesses, we started a waste separation scheme where businesses themselves separate their waste to reduce the amount going to landfill.
Q: In your opinion, how can individuals contribute in curbing Plastic Pollution?
Sian: By becoming a responsible and environmental tourist or traveler one person can make a huge difference in the problem with plastic pollution. The smallest actions make the biggest differences done in scale. Refilling your water bottle in the many refill station initiatives around the world, rather than buying bottled water helps to curb the hundreds of thousands of single use plastic bottles that get wasted every day.
Saying no to unnecessary and habitual single use plastic items such as plastic bags, plastic straws and using one of the many alternatives on the market these days, and shopping locally rather than big supermarkets.
Q: What has been your most memorable impact led by individuals and what is the total impact made?
Sian: Debris Free Friday on Gili Trawangan has helped recover more than 15 tonnes of plastic from the beach of Trawangan and we can now donate this rubbish to the rubbish bank to turn trash into a cash donation for the Gili eco trust. It started out with 8 dive shops sponsoring a weekly beach clean with free beer and soda, and now over 40 businesses from all tourism sectors sponsor a clean up so we can achieve better results and clean all over the island. Now we also have travellers coming to Trawangan just to seek out our little eco shop in order to help out at clean ups or to learn more about our projects!
Q: I’m sure there have been plenty of ups and downs especially when it comes to getting others to care about the environment. What would you say is the biggest challenge and how do you overcome the same?
Challenge: Encouraging tourists and locals to buy a refillable water bottle and using 100+ water refill stations to stop the huge amounts of plastic bottles consumed. Challenges with trust and safety of water they are drinking. Plastic bottles are more than often cheaper than buying a reusable bottle. Tourists and locals simply don’t know they can refill their bottle rather than buying new ones
Overcoming: We are now working with a campaign RefillMyBottle in Bali who have helped to plot all the refill stations onto a mobile App, great for travellers looking for safe recommendations. This app has spread across Bali, Gili and other islands in Indonesia and will hopefully start in other countries as well to create a huge network of global refill stations. Spending time with individuals and businesses to show and teach them the importance of reducing the plastic pollution to ensure the steady tourism to rise sustainably and not to be pushed away from an island drowning in rubbish.
Challenge: To prove to all residents on Gilis that it is in the interest of EVERYONE to reduce the amount of rubbish being made, sorting and recycling trash and limiting plastic to ensure that people still want to come here in the future. Right now we are struggling to keep up with fast, poorly planned tourism infrastructure that is always developing and exploiting the island for fast profits.
Overcoming: We invite all business owners and staff on a tour to see our projects, to show the dark side of Gili that we all contribute to, and hold regular meetings and Q&A’s of how we can all do our small bit to reduce it. To offer as much education, tips, eco-friendly products and links to businesses for free to aid sustainable development for long term progress of this beautiful island paradise.
Q: What is the support you receive from local businesses, Indonesian government and big corporates over the years?
Sian: Most of the dive shops on Gilis educate all divers about the projects of the Gili Eco Trust and encourage donations to the projects to ensure we can continue to conserve the marine environment for the future. We are a non government funded organisation so we are constantly looking for grants and funding from corporate businesses and associations to ensure the continuation and success of the projects implemented on Gili Trawangan to stop it from drowning in rubbish. In the past we have written to, and received funding from the US consulate in Surabaya, from education charities and from past tourists, who with their own businesses donate a percentage of their profits to our environmental foundation.
Q: What do you feel can be done by individuals in the absence of any support from businesses or governments?
Sian: Educate your neighbour or your friend, show them that small changes in lifestyle, work and routines may be unusual and inconvenient at first but contribute a big value to curbing plastic pollution. There are a vast number of support groups online who are selflessly sharing free advice, business proposals and links on how to become more sustainable in any country or walk of life. Get involved in beach clean-up groups, or if there isn’t one, then start your own! Start a movement, feel and be grateful for success, even if you inspire just a single person to make a change for the world and watch a ripple effect be created.
It is very hard to continue the work on Gilis without the help of the businesses and Government. Although we have much experience and knowledge to share, we have no acting authority to ride it out. Because of this, we can’t preach to the masses, set up a ‘plastic bag ban’ or set fines for dumping or burning rubbish illegally. To overcome this we have to work hard with those businesses that do care and with them setting good examples and role model behaviour. We hope, this will be competitively copied by other businesses as the mindset of tourists and the industry changes.