Burning off Rubbish, & Dioxins

Mar 25th, 2010, in IM Posts, by

Raising awareness on Bali of the health effects of dioxins from openly burning off rubbish.


Encouraged by the positive reactions on the article about rabies in Bali I might as well spread my wings and continue with the public service stuff.

Everybody who has been on a Balinese road with a motorbike or bicycle at rush hour in the afternoon, when exhaust fumes from automotive vehicles mix with the smoke of burning rubbish on the roadside or in the gutters, knows what an appalling experience this can be. And I expect situations like this won’t be much different in other densely populated parts of Indonesia. In the name of public health I believe something should be done about it, hence this topic for further discussion.

Rubbish Burning in Bali

Below is an awareness sheet put together by Dr. Michael Ricos, in an attempt to improve the awareness of expatriates and local communities alike on the negative effect of dioxins on our environment and ultimately our own health.


Tip - use zoom.

His main suggestions for community and individual action in Bali:

  1. Form a committee to start cleaning up dioxins in your village. Make up a list of other people who should be involved, explain the problem and get the support of your community leaders like the Kepala Desa and leaders in your Banjar.
  2. Educate your committee first about dioxins and burning rubbish. Give a copy of this information to each of them explain to them the risk, and how we ourselves are responsible for producing them. Tell them that to stop producing more Dioxins we must… STOP BURNING RUBBISH!!! Throw rubbish in the DKP garbage collection system not in the river and do not burn it.
  3. Have regular meetings to make sure everybody understands what they need to do, and for people to ask question. Everybody must understand this is a big commitment and needs the active endorsement of your whole community.
  4. Talk to everyone in your village, spread the message about dioxins. Make sure farmers and factories in your area understand, they must keep your village safe too.
  5. Make a target date by which time all the people in your community must be educated about the problem and what can be done.
  6. Tell your Banjar security when they see people burning rubbish to stop them and remind them about the risk to their health.
  7. The leaders of your community must be strong and vigilant. Have a continuing program to find out where the sources of dioxin are in your community, mainly burning rubbish but textile dyes and pesticides made with chlorine increase the levels of dioxin in your community.
  8. Call GUS for more information. We’ll answer your questions, and help you to Stop Dioxin Exposure in your village.
  9. Have courage and determination it is a big job but the longest journey begins with one small step. And remember always lead by example!! Remember what you stand to win with a successful Dioxin Reduction Program. Less cancer, less disease, fewer birth defects, and more people who can bear healthy children.

For those who are interested in spreading this message in their respective communities a translation in Bahasa Indonesia Pembakaran Sampah Meracuni Masyarakat (PDF) is available:


Tip - use zoom.

However, don’t expect too much enthusiasm when trying to change ingrained, even nefarious, habits. When I tried to explain to an old Balinese lady the dangers of burning waste in the open, she only replied:

And how do you suppose we will have to keep the mosquitoes away?


87 Comments on “Burning off Rubbish, & Dioxins”

  1. avatar David says:

    Big uphill battle dealing with this problem, it’s a daily event in many front gardens to see the rubbish set alight, it burns desultorily, next day same.

  2. Nice post, ET. I often go past a children’s playground where there are clouds of white rubbish-smoke in amidst the swings.

  3. avatar madrotter says:

    well try walking through bandung at night doesn’t matter which neighbourhood, all you smell is burning plastic, exhaustfumes in the day… guys sitting around a burning tire, in the smoke and chainsmoking… i don’t know about bali but here in quiet a few area’s there are no provisions in place for folks to get rid of their garbage… few years ago we had a garbage avalanche a few kampungs got burried like they usually do with mudslides, the huge garbage dump was full… within no time there were hundreds of mountains often 5, 6 meters high and growing trash, the smell in the city was unbelievable and it went on for quiete some time… so the powers that be decided, ok from now on we’re going to dump bandung’s trash around garut.. smack in the middle of some kampungs and those people tried to protest this, army came in, pointed some guns so now all the trash is going there…

    i swear, plastic is a disaster for this country…

    i spend the last few days in pamulan, tangeran, got some really crazy stories, the things i’ve seen…

  4. avatar ET says:

    i swear, plastic is a disaster for this country…

    They seem to love plastic here. Every little item you buy gets wrapped up in plastic, notwithstanding the abundance of natural and recyclable materials suitable for packaging. I think the only way out is to tax the producers and distributors of plastic bottles, bags etc. so heavily that outlets become economically compelled to charge their customers for all disposable plastic packaging. Consistent economic reasoning then will consumers oblige to become creative and less prone to squandering.

  5. avatar Laurence says:

    Need to ban plastic bags in all developing countries so the idiots stop burning and degrading the planet. Best ban them in all countries.

    Once had a Balinese guy tell me after he returned to Bali from a few years in Australia, “Much prefer it here we can throw rubbish anywhere and no safety rules when at work”. This was on the famous but littered Kuta beach.

    I was once on a fishing vessel off Sumatra where the Fillipino crew threw a bag of rubbish over the side, the Norweigion captain stopped the boat and made them collect it all and save till back in port.

  6. avatar Odinius says:

    Yeah this is hardly a Balinese problem. Pan-developing world, isn’t it.

    But it’s yet another argument for stopping the use of plastics.

  7. avatar jforshee says:

    After a long stay in Bali, I finally left due to severe respiratory problems. I am sure this was mainly caused by the burning of plastics everywhere. Some Balinese with extra land were “contracting” to pick up rubbish from hotels, which they would then dump on their own property and set aflame. These became plastic-filled mountains that smoldered constantly, sending out clouds of toxic smoke. There is an immense gap in Balinese thinking between the ritual/metaphysical attentiveness (through offerings and ceremonies) to well-being in their communities and the actual physical necessities of environmental and social well-being. Yes, this is a problem around the world, but the population density of this island and amount of drinks in plastic bottles (later to be burnt) sold to a large number of expats and tourists have created an acute problem of especially toxic air pollution affecting public health.

  8. avatar ET says:

    There is an immense gap in Balinese thinking between the ritual/metaphysical attentiveness (through offerings and ceremonies) to well-being in their communities and the actual physical necessities of environmental and social well-being.

    Indeed. Something came between their centuries-old life concept called Tri Hita Karana, i.e. promoting harmony between the lower, the middle and the higher levels of existence, and the present state of moral and environmental decay. I suspect it has a lot to do with greed and becoming affluent in a short time with little effort thanks to the constant flow of tourist dollars. Bali surely has come a long way since the time it was put on the map by those who became enchanted with it and its present state.

    Yes, this is a problem around the world, but the population density of this island and amount of drinks in plastic bottles (later to be burnt) sold to a large number of expats and tourists have created an acute problem of especially toxic air pollution affecting public health.

    I don’t think it’s the expats nor the tourists who are to blame. They usually come from places where environmental consciousness has already taken root and most of them will think twice before ditching plastic bags and bottles. The problem lies definitely with the locals.

  9. avatar jforshee says:

    I think we’re saying similar things. Yes, greed now seems to cloud Tri Hita Karana–or produce a sort of counterpart to it in practice. I don’t “blame” the expats and tourists. But they have created an increased demand for many sorts of drinks bottled in plastic, not to mention packaged food from supermarkets. They may think they are disposing of their rubbish responsibly, as might the large hotels believe that their waste will somehow be recycled. Yes, the problem lies with the locals, their own excessive use of plastics, and persistence in producing toxic smoke. But foreign visitors and residents contribute to it in their numbers and through their consumption, however unwittingly.

  10. avatar BrotherMouzone says:

    I don’t think it’s the expats nor the tourists who are to blame. They usually come from places where environmental consciousness has already taken root and most of them will think twice before ditching plastic bags and bottles. The problem lies definitely with the locals.

    So the expats and tourists dutifully put their plastic rubbish in the trash bin (if they can find one) as they have been taught and the contents of that trash bin ends up getting burnt in a pile or at the side of the road anyway.

    The volume of tourists – both domestic and local – is most definitely part of the problem.

  11. avatar rayner says:

    I had a friend who years ago worked for a plastics company. He reckoned that plastic when it comes into contact with some toxins in the waste, phenols, etc., this would release chemicals which could affect men’s virility, fertility, and also masculise women and feminise men. It looks as if he was right.

    Perhaps if the Balinese knew that their virility was at stake they might take a more responsible approach to waste disposal.
    Rayner

  12. avatar ET says:

    the contents of that trash bin ends up getting burnt in a pile or at the side of the road anyway.

    Trash bins and tempat sampah are emptied and taken away by village workforce in lorries to big garbage dumps in remote areas where most of it is also burnt. It has the advantage that the pollution is more or less confined to that area depending on the prevailing winds. Waste treatment or incinerators however is something that is still to be considered futuristic. The biggest problem nonetheless is stray garbage which is from time to time tossed into piles on the roadsides or in ditches and then burnt on the spot.

  13. avatar Oigal says:

    but the population density of this island and amount of drinks in plastic bottles (later to be burnt) sold to a large number of expats and tourists have created an acute problem of especially toxic air pollution affecting public health.

    Expats..hardly… take a look at any river in any city in Indonesia, if every expat in the nation chucked a tonne of plastic in the river every day, the addition would not be even visable.

  14. avatar Oigal says:

    The volume of tourists – both domestic and local – is most definitely part of the problem.

    So how does this fit into the rivers of plastic and black filth that is Jakarta “water” ways where tourists are .000001% of the population?

  15. Halo Mr. Oigal,

    I will try to answer your question. I think for the Bule, everything is do-what-i-want, do-what-i-iwant. He is individualis. For the Indonesian, he or she thinks more of other people’s feelings. The Indonesian thinks more of the society, not just try to get rich/famous/or to be the boss. In some ways the bule, sure has the advantage. But for the environment here, it belongs to the Indonesian. Would the Indonesian, guided by Pancasila education, really just throw things away, just like that ? I don’t think so. From the logic of what I write we can see that only the backpacker Jaksa bule with their jorok ways would throw, throw away the rubbish. They could easily eat from the warung with the biodegradable banana leaf. Instead, they go to McDonalds. Such is the Bule. But we Indonesians have our own way and style. Gituloh.

  16. avatar madrotter says:

    yeah and aburizal bakrie has a heart of gold

  17. avatar Odinius says:

    It’s everyone who produces, consumes or irresponsibly disposes of plastics’ fault. It’s the government’s fault, for not having adequate waste disposal programs. It’s the fault of every person, elite or non-elite, who circumvent and undermine whatever programs do exist. It’s the fault of community leaders, who have a responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of their communities, yet don’t do anything about this. Most of all, it’s YOUR fault, whoever you are…

  18. avatar diego says:

    rayner,

    The information (read: fear) about xena-girl and girly-boy syndrome caused by the toxic of plastic really is a strong case for becoming more environmentally-friendly. Thanks.

  19. avatar jforshee says:

    Oigal, True enough, but the article of this discussion is specifically about Bali and the comments apply to the environmental and social situations there–which differ in some unique ways from Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. No one is blaming the expats for all of Indonesia. My point was that they are part of a specific problem in Bali, in creating an increased demand for food products contained in plastic. The Balinese consume and dispose of a vast amount of rubbish on their own. Bali and Indonesia in general desperately need good environmental policy (and enforcement of it) regarding waste, air quality, carbon emissions, and a slew of other concerns.

  20. Friend, I ever see a movie called the Graduate with Dustins Hoffmans: “the future: plastics.”

  21. avatar ET says:

    Can any seasoned traveler here give an eyewitness account of the amount of plastic garbage in areas of Indonesia where tourists and expats are a rarity compared to a place like Bali?

  22. avatar madrotter says:

    like i said in and around bandung plastic waste all over the place, what i’ve seen from jakarta same story, i’ve been to some far away kampungs in and around tangeran/bogor this week and i couldn’t believe how people can live the way they do living with waste all around them and yeah its mostly plastic waste, i dont know maybe its because they’re dirt poor and only eat indomie so they dont have the energy to clean it up

  23. avatar ET says:

    like i said in and around bandung plastic waste all over the place, what i’ve seen from jakarta same story,

    Sure, but I mean also more remote places like Pontianak in Kalimantan, Jayapura in Papua, Padang in Sumatra etc. I also wonder if this is only Indonesia-specific or a cross-border phenomenon in Malaysia and Brunei. One place for certain that isn’t affected is Singapore.

  24. avatar madrotter says:

    i’ve seen the same thing in thailand but that was 14 years ago hopefully they got smarter

  25. avatar bs says:

    I was in and around Manado last year and although the city itself was a bit dirty, the villages around it (Minahasa Highlands) were all surprisingly clean.

    Singapore is a whole different story. They bring out the army if a mosquito is spotted…

  26. avatar Odinius says:

    Look, it has very little to do with expats or locals. It has to do with the NUMBER of people in a given space consuming plastics. WHEREVER there are a lot of people consuming plastics in Indonesia, there is litter, burning piles giving off toxic fumes and the like.

    This is because Indonesia LACKS a comprehensive plan to tackle waste, and even where there are attempts, too many people blatantly disregard the rules and/or find ways to bribe their way out of it.

    Tourists do contribute to the problem, particularly in Bali, but given that this problem is in no way, shape or form particular TO Bali, it can’t be the root problem

  27. avatar adinda says:

    @ ET: great post. love it.

    Dioxins are usually produced via incomplete combustion (burning household trash, forest fires, and waste incineration ) and some chemical processes, including natural ones. in case of burning the householdtrash (including plastics and some other organic things), indeed it will be incomplete combustion. *sigh*. however, we can find a lower dose of dioxins

    @ Rainer, well, plastics is one kind of polymer. DNA is also a kind of, natural one. plastics is cheaper and very useful in many ways. perhaps, what is debatable up to now is the use of bisphenol A in making plastics. google yourself about bisphenol A.

    indeed, plastics should be controlled with care, that’s why we have 7 codes of recycling numbers. and yes, i agree with Odinius, we are lack of comprehensive plans to tackle this problems.

    nice weekend

  28. avatar ET says:

    @ Odinius

    This is because Indonesia LACKS a comprehensive plan to tackle waste, and even where there are attempts, too many people blatantly disregard the rules and/or find ways to bribe their way out of it.

    Right. That’s why I believe the only way to tackle the problem is to hit them where it hurts the most. In their wallet.
    Plastic packing should be taxed and paid for by the customers. There has been attempts in western countries but the chemical and plastic industrial lobby is very tenacious. You know, loss of jobs, compensations and blablabla.

  29. avatar ET says:

    @ adinda

    Thanks for the compliment.
    Btw, you have nice name. Reminds me of a story about Indonesia that has made a big impression on me: ‘Saidjah and Adinda’ from the book ‘Max Havelaar’ by E.D. Dekker. I don’t know whether this book is also a part of the Indonesian curriculum.

  30. avatar BrotherMouzone says:

    Plastic packing should be taxed and paid for by the customers. There has been attempts in western countries but the chemical and plastic industrial lobby is very tenacious. You know, loss of jobs, compensations and blablabla.

    I am often amazed by the layers of plastic that surround every single food or drink item you buy nowadays. This is by no means a solely Indonesian phenomenon, it’s just that the infrastructure for disposing of the crap is less efficient here.

    If you think about it, this is a problem largely created by western companies in Indonesia. It’s the Coca-Cola’s, the Krafts, The Nestles, and the Danones of the world that brought overpackaging to Indonesia. Most genuinely Indonesian foods and beverages are eaten and drunk from reusable plates and glasses.

    As more Indonesians abandon their own eating culture for the more “sophisticated” (and vastly less healthy) western way of eating pre-packaged, starchy, colourful, processed turd we can only expect this to get worse and worse.

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