Recently Gede Robi of the Navicula band took some time off his grueling schedule to answer Rio Helmi’s  questions about the movement he is throwing his weight behind and his perspective on Bali and Indonesia’s enviromental issues.


RIO HELMI: Robi, the problem surrounding one time use plastic is goes back quite some time, even the plastic pyramid in Munduk that was erected as a warning against the dangers of plastic pollution, a symbol of endeavours to deal with the problem, has there for decades. What triggered your decision to make this film and to create this movement now?


ROBI NAVICULA: Momentum. Now is the time when dealing with waste, especially plastic waste has become a priority issue on all levels, community, government and corporate. Aside from international pressure, this is also a result of our disgrace as Indonesia is the second largest world-wide contributor of the plastic waste in the oceans.

I believe significant change can be achieved if there is synergy between the government, communities and corporations and if this is fully supported by third parties such as academics, religious institutions and the media. Right now they are all on the same page.


RH: You have just taken a road trip through Java by truck. Where is the plastic situation worse, in Java or Bali? If there are things that stand out more (in Java), what would you see as being the cause?


RB: The truck is symbolic. Indonesia dumps one truck load of plastic waste a minute into the ocean.

Java produces more plastic garbage than Bali; it is a larger island; it is quite densely populated, and  it is the centre for the manufacture of plastic. Our culture of plastic in Bali is not dissimilar; however, in Bali we have the addition of the tourism industry and services for tourists which end up producing sizeable daily quantities of garbage. There is also a tendency to hide the garbage problem on the island for the sake of maintaining Bali’s reputation as a tourist destination. For example, where I live in Nyuh Kuning which is part of Ubud, it is all very beautiful and clean; the garbage collection is very organized, and burning rubbish is prohibited. But since our rubbish ends up at the  the final dump site, this effort only amounts to shifting the problem somewhere else, it doesn’t solve the problem. The rubbish from Nyuh Kuning and most villages in Ubud ends up at the Temesi Central Rubbish Dump (TPA)  (in 2019 heavy fires were burning continuously for months at Temesi).

We are all poisoned by smoke that is heavily laden with dioxin. This is a concrete manifestation of “Instant Karmapala”: whatever we do comes back to us, we reap the returns of our actions.

When it comes to plastic, these returns are horrific. The plastic we dump on nature comes back at us in the form of microplastics in our drinking water and dioxin in the air we breathe.

The problem of waste in Bali and Java (as well as other islands) is no longer a local problem, it has become an emergency situation on a global scale since plastic waste drifts into the seas and the poison is no longer confined to Indonesia, it has an impact on the entire world.

It calls for a cultural revolution to change our ways; we need to think about the end product of what we consume, the life cycle of each product we use. The reality is that plastic products are poisonous at every stage of their life cycle –from the moment of their production using petroleum, contributing to climate change. When they are put into circulation, phthalates and plasticizers are absorbed by the foods that are wrapped in plastic and the poison spreads into our bodies. At the time of their disposal, and this applies to recycling plastic as much as to plastic that ends up at thefinal dump site(TPA), there is again a lot of pollution.

Bali has made a very good progress by banning single use plastic. It is the first province in Indonesia to introduce such regulations. The first move is to “reduce”, and from there to “reuse”, and finally, “recycle”. But I don’t believe this drive can be successful unless it is supported by all members of the community. We need to get into gear on the local level to begin with. We need to think global and act local.

Taking microplastic samples in Benoa Bay

RH: You often expound on cultural values regarding environment and culture that are implicit in Balinese customs. Are there similar prevailing local customs specifically linked to the environment that are as strongly ingrained in Java as they are in Bali?


RB:I think that every place has its own local wisdom. I would not be able to say for sure whether these are more strongly felt in Java or in Bali. I know and understand Bali better than Java because I grew up and settled here. What I can say is that adat is very powerful and influential in Bali.


RH: Today climate change is on the threshold of ‘no return’. Kalimantan in particular has lost a shocking amount of its forests. You were actively involved in the preservation of forests. Would you say that some progress has been made in Indonesia, or is the situation getting worse? If there has some progress, has this been significant enough to have any real effect against climate change?


RB:It does not seem that rainforest preservation has become a priority in Indonesia. On the contrary, it looks more like there is an actual increase in clearing forests to expand the production of palm oil and for mining; so it is still quite massive and is even spreading beyond Sumatera and Kalimantan to other large islands in Indonesia.

On the one hand the government is now ambitiously pursuing economic growth, while on the other hand this strong drive is matched by environmental destruction. The impact this is having on climate change is evident. By now everybody has understood that deforestation has a strong influence on increasing global warming, and it is also a contributor to the destruction of coral reefs in the oceans. Imagine what kind of environmental heritage we are bequeathing to the future.

Personally, I would prefer to see this country prioritize the protection of bio-diversity. This is our actual true wealth. It should be possible for this to become the ‘Nation Branding’ of Indonesia.

During the shooting of the Pulau Plastik film in Lempuyang Temple

RH: Regarding the initiative to move the capital city to Kalimantan, what do you think could be the strongest danger this would be for the environment there?


RB: I heard the plan was for Kutai (East Kalimantan). It could turn out to be a copy and paste job of the issues in Jakarta transferred to Kutai. Meanwhile, Jakarta will keep on having the same problems. Although the new capital is envisioned as a “Smart City”, the fact remains that development always goes hand in hand with environmental destruction.  However this does not mean that sustainable development is unattainable. Sustainable designs are definitely a possibility if the will is there.


RH: If I’m not mistaken, you have a background in agricultural studies? What would you say is the biggest problem facing agriculture in Bali regarding negative impact on the environment? And what do you think is necessary to implement in the immediate future?


RB: Balinese culture originally sprang from Agriculture. You only need to check out the Balinese calendar ro see this.

So if we want to preserve Balinese culture, we will also need to preserve its agricultural traditions.

In Bali, “ceremonies” cannot be separated from the “ethics” and “philosophy” that pertain to its agriculture.

Cultural practices based on environmentally friendly agriculture can actually provide solutions in other fields such as the use of domestically processed compost, the issue of self-sufficiency in food production and nutrition in the health sector, the values of biodiversity in the educational system, creative industries, tourism, and so on. Ignoring the way of life of sustainable agriculture is tantamount to cultivating a pseudo Balinese lifestyle; in other words, preserving Balinese culture just to please tourists.


RH: Although Governor Koster has now officially rejected the reclamation of Benoa Bay, the reality is that there is a lot of  reclamation expanding out from the access road to the port. Do you have any comment on this?


RB: To the best of my knowledge there are 3 reclamation projects in Benoa. The reclamation project to expand the Pelindo port, the reclamation linked to the airport, and PT.TWBI’s 700 hectare reclamation plan which have been vigorously opposed by ForBali and the Pasubayan Customary Village in collaboration. I only follow the updates on the fight put up by ForBali because they have clear demands: annul Presidential Decree (Perpres) 51/2014 and issue a Presidential Decree that establishes Benoa Bay as a maritime conservation area. Benoa Bay became controversial after becoming the disputed object of interests that would disrupt the important function of the bay as a major buffer for the surrounding marine and coastal ecosystems.

It was possibly due to the importance of this zone that it was considered a sacred area in the first place. Maintaining the balance and health of the ecosystem is the role of ‘ local wisdom’.


RH: Musicians have quite a strong influence in Bali, especially among the younger generation. You mentioned that many local musicians actually have quite a strong fan base in Bali. Are they open to joining forces when in comes to environmental issues?


RB: Yes. Environment issues have become the trend all round, including for musicians. The time for collaboration is ripe, it is right now. Thank you!



RH: Thank you!


all photos are courtesy of Robi/Navicula and may not be used without their permission

Please scroll down to the box to leave your comments