Visiting Suwung: the biggest garbage landfill in Bali

Many visitors of Bali are astonished by the amount of trash everywhere. The internet is full of articles describing how dirty the beaches are. And I believe it’s not just me who is annoyed by trash including plastic being burnt at the side of the road every day. One of the most unpleasant things that can happen to you is being stuck behind a garbage truck. In Bali a garbage truck is like a dump truck with a couple of guys standing in between the trash trying to squeeze in as much more as possible. And the smell is just awful!

As I’ve seen burning mountains of trash in Vietnam and a very illegal looking, smoking dump site in Nusa Lembongan (an island close to Bali) I was wondering what it would be like in Bali. When I accidentally discovered the landfill in Serangan I decided to pay it a visit.

The landfill in Serangan is called Suwung (you can also walk around a bit in Google Street View). It is the biggest of Bali and almost all the trash of southern Bali is brought there. The first thing I noticed when I drove there is how huge it is. With the help of GoogleMaps I estimated the size to be roughly 450 m by 450 m. Which is about 200.000 m² or the size of 30 soccer fields. It is hard to tell how high it is but I’d say at least 15m. I found a statement dating back to 2007 that 800 tons of waste are brought there every day! Since then the number of tourists probably doubled or tripled.

Apart from being so huge the landfill itself was not as terrible as I expected. They do sort the trash and use some of it to generate electricity (tho I didn’t see the plant). Most of the time it didn’t smell as bad as the garbage trucks. They alternate layers of trash with soil or rubble and there is also a drainage system in place to prevent contamination.

What did shock me was the way the garbage is sorted: All by hand!

Next to the site is an array of shacks and huts like a small village where people sift through garbage all day. After the trucks bring new garbage they put it into big sacks, bring it to their huts and go through it looking for stuff that can be sold e.g. paper, plastic bottles, tyres, metal. For one kilo of plastic bottles you get 2000 IDR which is around 15 Euro cents. The remainders are brought back to the landfill. I found a site stating that there are 500 families living next to the landfill who earn a living from sorting trash.

Unfortunately the landfill was the place with the most birds I’ve seen so far in Bali. There was also quite a few cows going through the trash and looking for food.

It seems the number one thing that can’t be recycled is plastic bags! After seeing that I’m going to try harder to avoid getting more plastic bags.

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