The Plastic Exchange is an exciting and successful Balinese initiative that emerged out of the COVID-induced collapse of tourism on Bali and now feeds thousands of people while maintaining their dignity and helping the environment.
I Made Janur Yasa, owner of Moksa restaurant in Ubud, came up with the idea of trading “rice for plastic” while pondering how to help his village in Tabanan Regency amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. He has utilized the most powerful vehicle Bali has, which is the community banjar organizations. There are more than 700 banjars in Tabanan alone and the Plastic Exchange program has reached over a hundred of these banjars across several regencies.
In the first three months, Balinese from more than 3000 households in about 100 banjars have collected 34 tons of plastic and received rice in exchange. Uptake has been through word-of-mouth. When one banjar sees this program succeeding in a neighbouring banjar, they contact Janur and his small team to find out how they can participate. “Its spreading like wildfire,” Janur told me. “And now I am on fire, too!”
“I tell the banjars that the community must start with their homes first and then expand to their streets and gardens and finally the river ravines”, says Janur. The Plastic Exchange also takes and recycles discarded refrigerators and other machines. “If I had 2 million dollars I could clean all of Bali,” he says. “We estimate that there are millions of tons of plastic on the island and we have the perfect mechanism to clean this up.”
The plastic is all sorted in Bali and sent to factories in Java where it is recycled. Even tetra packs are recycled and made into roof insultation.
Rice is being paid for through donations from local businesses, and individuals on Bali and internationally. This is a fabulous initiative with full buy-in and ownership by the Balinese community and it will grow and expand into new ideas for business that could help a large number of Balinese to move beyond sole dependency of tourism. Bravo Team Plastic Exchange!