A rainbow of plastic bags tangled in the roots of a mangrove tree. Beaches littered with a confetti of instant-coffee sachets and IndoMie noodle wrappers. Everywhere, the crunch of discarded plastic cups half-embedded in the sand. For Kelly Bencheghib and her brothers Gary and Sam, often found knee-deep in garbage-clogged rivers, a typical day on Bali looks a lot different to what most visitors see through their Eat, Pray, Love-tinted glasses.
The Paris-born siblings are part of a wave of designers, artists and environmental advocates turning Bali’s copious rubbish into upcycled treasures. Growing up in Bali in the early 2000s, the siblings watched the beach playground near their home in south Bali’s Batu Belig district get filthier with every monsoon season. “So we decided to do something about it,” says Bencheghib. They drummed up friends and local schools for occasional beach clean-ups. “But once we had cleaned an area it would be covered in trash again the next day.” A search for the source led them to Bali’s plastic-choked waterways, the result of the island’s woefully inadequate waste-management infrastructure.
After seven years spent living abroad, Bencheghib returned to Bali to help her brothers grow their former after-school activity into a fully fledged non-profit, Make A Change World. She then co-founded with them Sungai Watch (sungai means “river” in Bahasa Indonesia) – which organises community clean-ups of the island’s rivers and has installed floating trash barriers to prevent waste from reaching the ocean. Some of the group’s events attracted more than 300 volunteers, while social media posts documenting the process have racked up millions of views. “Stranded in lockdowns, a lot of people around the world realised how important it is to cherish your environment,” Bencheghib.
A grant from the WWF in 2020 helped to kick off its growth to five outposts around the island, where so far more than 950,000 kilos of waste have been sorted, indexed and, when possible, upcycled in-house or shipped off to processing facilities in Java.
But not all rubbish is created equal. Hard-to-recycle and low-value plastics such as shopping bags – which, despite an island-wide ban, still make up almost one third of Sungai Watch’s collected waste – require a more innovative approach. With the help of creative director Michael Russek, Sungai Watch’s soon‑to-launch social-enterprise arm upcycles these plastics into durable furniture and artwork. Marble- and terrazzo-effect plastic sheets are produced using a heat-compressing machine not unlike a waffle iron; it’s a widely adopted technique pioneered by another recycling collective, Precious Plastic. “Being able to turn plastic bags into upcycled homeware is evidence of waste’s hidden value,” Bencheghib says.
Over in Seminyak, Indonesian entrepreneur Ronald Akili, founder of hospitality hub Potato Head, had his watershed moment in 2016, cutting through plastic-littered waves on his daily surf. “Back on the beach the trash was almost up to my knees for as far as I could see,” he says. “From that day, I made the commitment that anything I did in my company would be part of the solution.”
This became Desa Potato Head, a creative village built around Akili’s existing Potato Head beach club and hotel, Potato Head Suites. The beachfront complex, designed by Dutch firm OMA, has repurposed plastic waste embedded in its DNA. Weavers from Jakarta-based design firm BYO Living reworked 1.7 tonnes of compressed PET plastic into Desa’s geometric ceilings, and collaborated with British designer Faye Toogood on a bespoke collection of rattan furniture wrapped in recycled plastic bottles. For the rooms, designer Max Lamb teamed up with artisans from local furniture studio Kalpa Taru to make kaleidoscopic desk chairs and hotel amenities from terrazzo-like sheets of compressed plastic bottles. Spanish designer Andreu Carulla works with Desa’s on-site R&D workshop, producing roly-poly stools from recycled Styrofoam. “We tend to respond better when we’re inspired than when we’re being preached to,” Akili says. “We all want to eat healthier, but our food still needs to be delicious. We all want to make sustainable objects, but they still have to be beautiful.”Read more here: https://www.ft.com/content/be07595a-2fda-4a2b-9ef8-c320112b6d3c