CNN Hero Trades Rice for Plastic

When the Covid-19 virus interrupted the Indonesian island of Bali’s tourism industry, many workers found themselves out of work.

Because more than half of Bali’s economic revenue stems from tourism, an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Balinese people, many hospitality workers were forced to return to their local villages. However, with so many people returning to rural areas, food in most parts of the island became extremely scarce and trash started piling up in areas that were not used to generate as much waste. This has created a major bureaucratic hurdle for the Balian government.

Upon seeing these trends across the island, Made Janur Yasa, a vegan restaurant owner in the town of Ubud said, “I got to do something about this.”

Seeking an innovative solution to both the build up of plastic pollution and the hunger crisis, he came up with an ingenious idea: a rice exchange.

Yasa said he wanted to find a way to help people in his community during the pandemic while also addressing the ongoing problem of plastic pollution.

“I got to thinking, inside the challenge there is an opportunity,” he said.

Developing a program and system of exchange, Yasa credited incentives for villagers to barter rice for plastic in a way that would benefit the environment and empower the local people. Residents can turn in plastic trash they collected in exchange for a main food staple.

In May 2020, Yasa hosted his first exchange in his home village.

It was so successful, he quickly took the concept to other villages across Bali birthing the  non-profit, Plastic Exchange.

“I thought to myself, if it works in my village, it will work in other places as well,” Yasa said. “I realized this thing was getting bigger than I had ever imagined.”

The program uses the local Banjars (neighborhood groups) to collect plastic from homes, streets, rivers, beaches and surrounding areas, then trades rice for the collective plastic collected by the Banjar to be distributed in markets they host in their own local villages at monthly markets.

To date, Plastic Exchange has helped feed thousands of families and collected approximately 300 tons of plastic for recycling.

“Teenagers come with a smile. Elderly people are there. Young kids come with their mothers. That’s what keeps me going, to see them all excited about it,” Yasa said. “They were feeling powerless, and this gives them hope.”

Source: CNN