Trash Hero Family Gathering – ‘We Clean. We Educate. We Change.’

Long-standing member of the Let’s Do It! movement and mentor to the Let’s Do It! Indonesia team, Paul Emmet, gives us a personal account of his experience attending the Trash Hero Family Gathering in Bali, 2-4 November. Trash Hero are a vibrant and vital arm of the Let’s Do It! movement in Indonesia, inspiring change for a clean future across its many islands.  

It was day three of the Trash Hero family gathering in Bali where more than 85 people representing over 30 out of the 39 chapters in Indonesia gathered to learn, update, engage with other NGOs and government and form plans to make the world a cleaner place. At 6.30am we woke up and drove into central Ubud, to the rendezvous point at the Museum of Marketing 3.0. Nearly 100 strong, we began our cleanup. Using bamboo pickers and re-usable sacks we moved along the streets, a yellow army leaving the areas we moved through spotless.

Our destination was the temple and home of the King of Ubud. At 8am he greeted us with coffee, tea and sticky rice. As guests in his home he gave us a brief history of Ubud. He described its genesis under his father as a pleasure tourist destination, when Dutch merchants were welcomed in the 1920s and artists flourished along with the local economy. He also praised the Trash Hero movement, recognising the change necessary – particularly with the challenge of Indonesians having grown up used to food wrapped in banana leaves, which could then be thrown aside. Now plastic packaging has replaced the natural leaves, but the tradition of throwing the wrappers into nature has persisted.

Trash Hero founders Roman Peter and Jan Bares, and Indonesian Trash Hero chairman Wayan Aksara, presented t-shirts, re-usable bottles and bags made from recycled PET to the King and his oldest son. An official cooperation agreement was signed and then his youngest son, just a toddler, came out of the palace wearing a Trash Hero T-shirt – the cutest moment and photo opportunity of the day.

The Trash hero network is growing fast, almost doubling in size this year in Indonesia, a country of almost 238 million which ranks only second to China in terms of plastic waste being generated and ending up in the environment. The three days were intense, joyous, informative and action-oriented. Conducted almost entirely in Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia, there was a fantastic team of translators to explain to the handful of Bule (non-Indonesians) who were present.

On day one each chapter gave an update on their cleanup activities. It was particularly moving to hear from the delegation of the island Gili Meno, a small paradise of 400 people who had recently suffered from more than 300 earthquakes in just one month, depopulating their island completely of tourists and throwing them back into stone age conditions – no electricity, mobile phones, electricity, a scarcity of water and not even a permanent doctor on the island. Yet the Trash Hero ethos pervaded even during these times – ‘We Clean. We Learn. We Change.’ To deal with the trauma of the after-shocks the Trash Hero team continued working with the kids, and with them they brought gifts in the form of wine glasses upcycled from bottles as well as proudly presenting their work with recycled flip-flops – a very common form of beach debris.

Trash Hero Indonesia have conducted over 1200 cleanups involving 60,000 trash heroes, including 12,000 kids, who collected a total of 150,000 kilos of trash in 2018. In the meeting the finances and budgeting were shared with everyone, adhering to a policy of total transparency. Also the importance of the brand was shared – which logos to use, and which partners would be allowed to use the logo. This grass-roots movement is highly ethical, community focused and committed to a Zero Waste world.

Guest speakers also included representatives from World Cleanup Day partners Let’s Do It! Indonesia, who shared how, with Trash heroes support, more than 7 million people participated in WCD – the highest number from any country. Ocean Conservancy presented their Clean Swell trash mapping app, used to record each item of trash.  G-Cube, Zero Waste Bali Community, Dept of Waste for Bali, WWF all contributed varying vibrant presentations.

The Trash Hero refillable bottle was distributed to all team members – more than 60,000 are now in circulation, and new vacuum flasks will be available in December. Water filters were also provided from Nazava. In conjunction with water filter companies they play a huge role in bringing clean affordable water to communities and eliminating plastic. Bali has a great app showing over 600 locations where you can locate where to fill your bottle for free, and buy a Trash Hero re-usable bottle. Other merchandise includes re-usable bags made from PET bottles and the famous ‘I AM A TRASH HERO’ T-shirt, which denominates the chapter and re-enforces the mission.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect was the sincere desire of government and local royalty to engage. The people of Indonesia are increasingly aware of the delicate balance between development and conservation, and Trash Hero are a contributing factor in the conversation and action to create that balance. I must extend huge thanks to the organisers, who truly pulled off an amazing feat – educational, entertaining, action-oriented and ultimately empowering. The closing circle on the last day was emotional, as every chapter leader expressed their gratitude and committed to continue to clean every week and build the movement into a force that will make the change we are all striving for.

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