Fighting marine debris: Amcor co-workers join Earthwatch Institute in Bali

This year’s Amcor Earthwatch participants travelled to Bali to study the effects of marine debris during a 12-day research expedition, where they learned about sustainability, the need to protect natural capital, and what Amcor can do to help.

14 December, 2016
Bali is renowned for its beauty – its diverse beaches, lush rainforest, volcanic mountains and picturesque rice paddies. The island’s culture is lively and rich, blending Hindu-Buddhist religion with local customs and a thriving arts scene.

Less widely known is the threat that debris is posing to the island’s marine ecosystems. Last year, Indonesia was identified as the world’s second highest contributor to plastic marine waste, and with cities, tourist areas and less populated beaches in close proximity, Bali is a unique location to study the impacts of marine debris.

This year, I joined 15 Amcor co-workers and the Earthwatch Institute on an expedition to Bali to research this issue. All the individuals on this year's project are deeply passionate about the environment, demonstrating this through their roles at Amcor or in their personal lives.

Guided by Stephen Smith, Associate Professor at the National Marine Centre at Australia’s Southern Cross University, we divided into groups to clean sections across 12 beaches. We found 28,000 pieces of debris, and catalogued the material, size and possible origin of each one. The information will be used to help understand where the debris comes from, and how to prevent it reaching our oceans. Alongside the direct impact on beaches and wildlife, marine debris undermines tourism and has a socioeconomic impact on the islanders, for example due to its effect on coral reefs and fisheries.

One of the core issues in Bali is a lack of infrastructure around waste disposal. Most rural areas have no waste collection, which means trash accumulates in vacant lots and can end up in the sea. There’s also a lack of awareness of the risks posed by mishandled refuse, causing some plastic waste to be burned in open piles.

While we’re passionate about finding solutions, we recognise that change won’t happen overnight. We all agreed that educating the population is key. It’s a case of raising awareness over time – starting at the local level and building outwards. Another gap is funding for waste management infrastructure and for ongoing waste collection and recycling. While there are many excellent organisations in Bali striving to address the problem, they often work in isolation.

Our next step will be to work with our partners, including the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas alliance and others, to launch a pilot scheme aimed at testing greener ways of collecting and processing waste in Indonesia. We’re really excited about this next phase because it builds on our findings and means we can help develop new approaches to waste disposal.

The project has inspired us to make changes in our own lives, too. We were able to see first-hand how important it is to protect natural ecosystems and maintain the health of our planet, and we’ve all gained knowledge and awareness that will have a lasting effect on our attitudes and actions. Protecting the environment is something we already cared about, but seeing the impact of marine debris on the natural beauty of Bali really opened our eyes.

Getting involved on the ground in projects like this is a fantastic way to enrich our knowledge and insight, both as individuals and as a company.

Take a look at what we got up to during the 2016 expedition.