trash on beach in bali

A trashy beach in Bali

by Larissa on June 6, 2013

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On our first day in Bali we headed for the famed Kuta Beach. The current Lonely Planet guide offers a list of “Top 25 Experiences” in Bali, with Kuta Beach right on it.  According to their experts, “Tourism on Bali began here and is there any question why? . . .Kuta Beach was and always will be Bali’s best beach.” At least that’s the Lonely Planet version.

If our experience today is anything to go by, we can pitch our Lonely Planet guide in the trash. Or perhaps just pitch it on Kuta Beach. Because when we got there all we saw was trash, lots and lots of trash, on the sand, in the water and even clinging to the stray ankle. Plastic bags, bottles, cans, papers and heaven knows what else. It was downright filthy. We have never seen a beach this dirty, anywhere.

We knew that Kuta was one of the more built-up areas of Bali. We were expecting crowds, but what we saw was not the detritus of a few too many holiday merry-makers. This was a public sanitation disaster.

It’s not surprising the beach was practically devoid of people though there were a few intrepid souls sizzling away on the sand. They were lobster-red and had the look of folks who had come to Bali to go to the beach, and were damn well going to, regardless of the rubbish.  One sad-looking girl sat at the water’s edge amidst sodden debris, a lonely mermaid washed ashore from the sea of litter.

kuta beach bali trash

Trash walking on Kuta Beach.

Surely this couldn’t be the normal state of affairs. Perhaps a garbage scow had recently overturned. Maybe the beach patrol was on strike. Bali has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful places on earth—there must be some explanation.

Unfortunately the explanation is not a good one. We learned that this is an annual event at Kuta Beach. According to the Jakarta Post, “Beached garbage is an annual problem for Kuta. From early December to late March, strong wind and powerful currents send waves of garbage from the ocean onto the beach.” Locals even refer to it as the “trash season” and say the debris comes from the nearby island of Java.

But we’re not so sure we accept the “Let’s blame Java approach.” You see, the sides of the roads in this part of Bali are convenient open-air trash receptacles piled high with the same stuff we saw on the beach. In the rainy season (which we were well into) storms wash the trash into gutters, out to sea and then back onto the beach where they wait to be washed out to sea again. It’s not quite the recycling system that Bali needs.

We left the beach via the grounds of the nearby Patra Resort.  Almost immediately we were amidst manicured lawns, trickling fountains and a sparkling pool.  We glanced back at the beach where we saw lounge chairs nestled on gently raked sand, with nary a speck out of place.

are bali beaches dirty

This is a view of the exact same beach taken from the shore side. (These chairs are visible in the photo of the woman on the beach at the top of this post.) From here the trash is hidden from view.

Because of the slope of the shore, the garbage wasn’t visible from here.  But we wondered how many of the hotel’s guests actually venture down to the waterline.  We saw one family do so. In a few seconds they came scurrying back like sand crabs escaping the tide. We bet they won’t go back for a second look.

Overall we loved the Balinese and much of the island was beautiful. But visitors should be aware of the situation on this and other beaches throughout the island. You really need to do your homework before visiting a place. With Bali, we thought we had.

If you’re interested in cleaner beaches, check out “Activist Abby,” a remarkable teenager from Illinois who is trying to rid the world of plastic bags: Activist Abby on Facebook

What places in your travels have not lived up to your expectations?

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Micki July 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Oh yuck! that’s definitely not what I expected from a beach in Bali.

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Tamara (@Turtlestravel) July 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm

We were a bit disappointed by Bali’s beaches as well, though we avoided Kuta having heard about its being dirty and oversaturated by tourism, etc. We found some nice beaches on Lombok and even better the Gili Islands. Much further east on the island of Flores (near Komodo NP) there are some beautiful beaches and amazing diving as well!

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Jennifer Miller July 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

yeah, we weren’t in love with Bali’s beaches and Kuta… meh. It’s depressing to see such a graphic result of the garbage problem in the ocean… I’m afraid we’re going to be seeing “trash season” on many more beaches around the world…

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Terry at Overnight New York July 8, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Sounds like Lonely Planet needs to do an update — and you’ve got the empirical evidence in your photos!

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Dan Winter July 9, 2013 at 1:29 am

Try Gili island in Lombok, clean quiet beaches with white glistening sand and crystal blue water, only about 3hours boat ride from Bali.

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Steve July 9, 2013 at 2:54 am

That first picture is utterly depressing – it looks like some of the Thai beaches after a huge party, but they have volunteers to collect it daily for recycling. (Obviously it would be better if the tourists didn’t drop it all in the first place…)

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Kate July 9, 2013 at 3:37 am

Bali is definitely not on my list of places to visit, at least not for the beach. This is a great example of “a picture says 1000 words.” The sand and water don’t look very nice, even aside from the trash.

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laurel- Capturing la Vita July 9, 2013 at 7:12 am

That is really sad. What a disappointment. Not only in the beach, but in Lonely Planet as well.

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theblether July 9, 2013 at 10:37 am

When I was there the beach was immaculate, however I still detested Kuta. It’s one of the worst places I have been for being harassed and irritated by in your face Touts and taxi drivers. You couldn’t walk 19 metres without being accosted again. This continued on the beach too, with all manner of vendors approaching you. I saw one gut trundle a rail of clothing along the beach. The desperation for money is palpable, and I would recommend anyone visiting Bali to avoid Kuta.

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Val-This Way To Paradise July 10, 2013 at 1:17 am

Wow!! That’s so disgusting and sad….actually kind of heartbreaking…

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Marc d'Entremont July 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I’m going to assume much of the trash was plastic – bags, water bottles, etc. Plastic trash has become the scourge of the world. I’m sure you saw it on otherwise beautiful river banks in other areas of southeast Asia. Tourists are just as much to blame because they don’t think before they buy whether there is anyway for nature to recycle their garbage – humans aren’t going to bother unless there’s money to be made. Many places in southern South America have outlawed plastic bags and bottles.

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Michael July 22, 2013 at 6:14 pm

You are right about cutting back on plastic. In some countries they practically overloaded shoppers with plastic bags while in others they were banned or charged for.

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Cat of Sunshine and Siestas July 10, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Spain has blue flag beaches (I think it’s an EU thing, as a matter of fact), and I won’t go swim at a beach unless it’s this way. Thankfully, Spaniards tend to clean up after themselves. I’ll let you know how the beaches in the north are after my trip!

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Michael July 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Thanks for the beach report Cat.

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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family July 11, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Gross!!!! I went to Kuta Beach for day just while I was waiting for a flight out of Bali and was really repulsed by it.

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Gabi @The Nomadic Family July 12, 2013 at 10:03 pm

crazy and a shame. i’m going to like activist abby on facebook now. thank you!

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Michael July 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I’m sure Abby will be thrilled to have you on board.

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AB July 22, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Bali is drowning in plastic. Sea and Air. Lived there Fall of 2010 to Spring of 2012, and had to leave, as the air is a toxic dioxin stew (Dioxin = Agent Orange/burning plastics) and the land/sea just as bad. As much as I love the Balinese, enough to produce a film about them, the trash is beyond bad. And no matter where you go, Kuta to Lovina (N Bali) it is swimming in the stuff. Only getting worse, and will take about 600 years of decomposition before it improves, if the gov puts on the brakes right now, which is 100% unlikely. -AB

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Michael July 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Hi AB,

We didn’t notice the air so much, perhaps because it was rainy season and it was mostly overcast anyway. You are right about the Balinese people, they were the most gracious that we met on our global journey.

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DIna October 23, 2013 at 6:46 pm

My daughter is on her way to help educate the children on litering and trash. She will be there for 4 weeks. I am alarmed by how bad these
photos are. If I was there I immediatly would start picking that junk up! Its just in my nature. I most likely would not get much done but that is what my whole vacation would have been. Its a shame.

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Michael October 23, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Hi Dina,

The trash is a real downer but the Balinese were the friendliest, most gracious people we met anywhere so your daughter should enjoy her stay there. Please have her send us photos of the beaches to see if it’s changed.

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Ms Rose December 23, 2013 at 12:02 am

i wanted to go to Bali read;Kuta so bad probably 5Feb 2014 but after reading your review im scared to go. do you think it happens from December-February? the view is depressing and im pregnant. any Balinese can confirm this??

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Michael December 23, 2013 at 12:56 am

Hi,

The wet season in Bali generally runs from October to March. That also creates the trash season since trash washes out to sea and then back on the beach.

Hope this info helps.

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Barb December 30, 2013 at 8:33 am

We are here now for our first time – travelled a considerable distance – and are SHOCKED at the litter. If we had read your blog before we came we wouldn’t have come! We did do a considerable amount of research prior and read nothing… never thought to Google “Bali beach garbage”… sigh.

But yes, the people, food, culture and other sites are phenomenal but we did want some beach time as well. Too bad.

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Michael December 30, 2013 at 11:42 am

Yes, it’s quite shocking isn’t it? Hope you were able to salvage your holiday.

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Barb December 31, 2013 at 11:41 am

Today we did a fantastic bike ride from Mt. Batur back to Ubud led by a knowledgeable, friendly and energetic guide. We saw incredible scenery and rode through villages and rice fields – it was a great experience.

The trash, however, was an extension of what we saw on the beaches yesterday. There it was in the villages and rice fields, and along paths and roadways. I don’t think Java can be blamed for this; it is as though my-home-is-on-a-garbage-heap has been normalized.

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around how it became this way. My partner and I have travelled quite a bit over the years and often in developing countries but never have we seen such a trash problem. Can someone help me understand how it happens? Is it because of a lack of resources to haul it ‘away’? It is the density of the population that aids in exacerbating the issue? What can be done about it?

Surely there are Indonesians who are also sickened by what they see every day!

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Barb January 6, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Just a follow up – we visited Lembongan Island for a day and it was great. Very laid back with garbage cans and signs asking for people to pick up their litter.

It was much cleaner than the area of Bali we saw!

Barb

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Alejandro February 10, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Larissa, we went to Kyta Beach in Nov, 07 for honeymoon and we saw the same thing, maybe not as much as these pictures, but they gave us the same explanations (garbage coming from Jakarta). I dont think the pople in Bali throw the garbage to the ocean, they live for turism and I´m sure they want to keep clean all the time.
What we saw is that every 30 minutes they emit a sound through the speakers along the beach and everybody working on the beach (and that´s alot of people) gather the trash and leave the beach clean. Unfortunely in 30 mins is dirty again.
Look at this link from Citarum River in Jakarta http://www.viralnova.com/worlds-most-polluted-river/
One more amazinng thing (if this story is true) is that Jakarta is more tan 800 miles from Bali.
And one more question where the trash goes when it doesn´t go to Bali???!!!

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Nadia February 14, 2014 at 7:46 pm

I would not recommend Bali as a vacation place. We drove all over this country and what we saw is a trash everywhere. Just few beaches are nice. This country is sinking down like a ship. Google garbage in Bali and you will find more pics. We are sad for people living here and we more admire our country….nice and clean.

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Luke March 17, 2014 at 11:11 pm

I got married in Bali last year and I can tell you there are some amazing beaches if you leave the main tourist areas. We stayed down in Uluwatu and the beaches and caves that lead to beaches are amazing and so secluded, clean and quiet.

People also have to remember that Bali is close to 3rd world, living off less than our weekly pay over a full year. They don’t have a generous government willing to pay for services such as garbage collection and clean up.

There are so many beautiful place in Bali, the problem is tourists only go where tourists have been before, once you get to know Bali and are willing to explore and make your own plans rather than following brochures then there is so much beauty to be found.

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Michael March 17, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Hi Luke,

Thanks for your note. Glad you enjoyed your wedding in Bali.

Cheers.

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Tom March 18, 2014 at 7:53 pm

I go to Bali about twice a year for some surfing and leisure – I’ve just arrived home this morning. I think you’ve missed the point of visiting.

Beyond the Kuta – Seminak strip there are wonderful beaches – among the best in the world for surfing and scenery.

Uluwatu, Canguu and Medewi for example remain clean and relatively untouristed.

Ubud is still a hub of cultural interest and great food.

I think your comments are ill informed, about equivalent to basing your impressions of California on Venice Beach.

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Michael March 18, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Hi Tom,

Thanks for checking in. I hear you about other parts of Bali but it just didn’t do much for us. As for Venice Beach, I was there recently and while the boardwalk is as tacky as ever, the beach is clean.

Take care.

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Tom March 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Hi Michael, did you go to Uluwaru? I just can’t imagine anyone going there and not being astounded by the beauty. I always thought the most spectacular beach in the world was Sidiri in Corfu until I went to Uluwatu.

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Michael March 19, 2014 at 8:28 am

Yes we went to the temples at Uluwatu.

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Australian March 20, 2014 at 12:27 am

This is only Kuta the party area for idiots. Other areas of Bali are world class. If you judge bali based on kuta its a little unfair. The images are shocking but the rest of bali is not like this at all.

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Marjloveslife April 2, 2014 at 9:41 am

Today we were on Nyang Nyang beach, climbed 500 steps to arrive at this beautiful secluded beach, but we couldn’t enjoy it because of all the dirt and garbage everywhere! The beach and also the water were filled with plastic, slippers, paper, …. anything you can imagine. You literally had 5 other people on the beach for miles. How can it still be this dirty? It’s such a pity.

Bali really disappointed me until now. The garbage is definitely not only Kuta’s problem.

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Michael April 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Thanks for the update.

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Sassy Arguer August 30, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Hi Larissa,

I’m sorry but I find your article dishonest.

1. You’re saying “The resorts are selling a mirage which the visitor doesn’t find out about until it’s too late” and implying that the pictures are a trick.
That might be your impression and I would understand regarding the situation, though you are wrong.
Your pictures are from South Kuta, near Tuban. We usually refer to Kuta Beach by the portion along Jalan Pantai, this is the most touristic one and where the most taken in pictures, and by the configuration of the beach the little trick you did when you took the picture in front of your hostel is impossible to do there.
Therefore your statement above is abusive and plainly wrong.

Also, without you are implying that it’s the state of the beach everyday all the year, the fact is, you have just been really unlucky. Heavy rains started mid-december, and before the rain saison, the beaches were ok.
Sure there is always a concerning issue about Bali’s pollution and waste disposal, and the precedent year similar issues happened (as in any country with rain season), but never it’s been that catastrophic that this year… sorry it happened during your holidays, but it’s just bad luck.

Assuming that all tourists will face the same disappointment than you and will be deceived by manipulative hostels, is again wrong.

2. (sorry I take portions from the original post on Huffington post, which led me here)
“How has it gotten so bad in Bali? The local government conveniently claims the trash washes up from neighboring Java. Even if it did come from there, why is it acceptable to keep garbage on the beach? Shouldn’t it be cleaned off?”

It was cleaned off, and the web is full of pictures of employees and volunteers who were cleaning the beach.
Trying to represent Bali has just greedy hostels selling manipulated pictures, tricking tourists and living in filthy conditions is really shameful.

3. “It’s not quite the recycling system that Bali needs.”
At some point, do you realise that you are visiting a developing country struggling to adapt third world country infrastructures to a fast-growing economy?
Seriously, you didn’t realise there was a reason why you were paying your cocktails 2$ and your massages 5$, and that could have a down side to that?

4. “Overall we loved the Balinese and much of the island was beautiful”
Lucky for them you like them as you encourage people to not go on their island, knowing that tourism is one of the main source of local development. What would it be if you didn’t like them ???

5. “You really need to do your homework before visiting a place.”
Like knowing the simple principle of moonsoon in Asia and tropical islands. Like typing “best time to visit Bali” in Google to automatically learning that rain season lasts October to March, December and January being the worst.

You should also do your homework after, like instead of recommending a charity in US, you could just easily found out what are the initiatives taken locally… you know like the volunteers that “you” didn’t see cleaning the beaches.

Congratulations, you came to Bali and you haven’t learned anything about the island… at all.
I guess tourists (sorry I cannot consider you as nomads) are willingly to learn the “real Bali” only if that fits their personal vision, the one where beaches are beautiful and culture is so charming in colourful, keeping an eye blind on the difficulty for this society to emerge and the courage of its people to deal daily between hard reality and dream to sell, for peanuts of dollars.

You had an occasion to actually learn something, you missed it. Anyway if you really wanna help Balinese people, here was the link to share http://www.avaaz.org/en/bye_bye_plastic_bags_on_bali/

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Michael August 30, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Dear “Sassy Arguer”

Thanks for sharing your anonymous opinions of our story. We have to disagree with you about our photos. They are authentic and show how photos in resort brochures can be misleading. We were reporting on the experience we had in Bali during our stay and stand by that story. Any search of the internet will show similar stories to ours. If you’ll notice in the comments here by other readers we are not the only people to have experienced this problem which is not confined to Kuta Beach.

Regarding your point about researching a destination before our trip, we knew it was the rainy season but were not aware that it was also the “trash” season. One of the reasons we write stories like this is to help make others more aware of these types of situations when they plan their travels.

We have included the link you posted to a web site to ban plastic bags on Bali (http://www.avaaz.org/en/bye_bye_plastic_bags_on_bali/) in your comment and note that the web site it links to also mentions the same problem of the trash on the beaches in Bali. Specifically it states, “The pictures are shocking: Bali’s most iconic beaches are littered in heaps of plastic rubbish. It’s hard to imagine tourists sunbathing and surfers catching waves amidst the debris, but the monsoon has brought a tidal wave of trash to the island’s shores — and this year, it’s worse than ever.”

It sounds like the experience we had and documented. We are glad to hear that others are aware of the mess and are taking measures to clean up Bali. It deserves better.

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