Plastic Exchange, I Made Janur Yasa’s contribution as a CNN Hero

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I Made Janur Yasa
I Made Janur Yasa, initiator of the Plastic Exchange movement and business. Photo: Priv Doc

IO – The problem of waste, and especially that of plastic waste, will never be resolved unless and until people’s behavior concerning waste changes. This is how I Made Janur Yasa (55), initiator of the Plastic Exchange business and movement in Bali, changed plastic waste behavior in his beloved Island – and how he was nominated as one of Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2021.

Plastic Exchange started in the Banjar or Community of Jangkahan, Batuaji Village, District of Kerambitan, Regency of Tabanan, Bali in May 2020. It is the realization of Janur Yasa’s idea on how to resolve plastic pollution in Bali while helping the people who are hard hit by the pandemic. Basically, he exchanges plastic waste for rice.

Janur Yasa believes that rice obtained by exchanging with plastic waste will be more meaningful to the exchanger, as they have spent some effort to collect and separate the waste. The movement itself is based on a local wisdom in terms of a value that is uniquely Balinese: Tri Hita Karana, or the Three Harmonies of Prosperity. In order to prosper and be happy on Earth, people must maintain three harmonies: harmony with the Divine, harmony with fellow men, and harmony with the environment.

Janur Yasa partners with companies that need plastic materials for processing and reprocessing. He sells the plastic waste that he gets from the people to them, and uses the money to buy rice to pay for the plastic. The amount of rice he gives away depends on the type and amount of plastic he gets. “It’s a really circular economy: we buy the rice from local farmers, which gives them money; we support the companies, which employ people and move the economy; and finally, the people themselves – including farmers and employees – collect the waste. This is how we clean the environment and feed the people of our communities at the same time,” he said.

Naturally, Janur Yasa started the whole enterprise in his own village. As it succeeds, the program gradually expands to the other villages in Bali. “I got to thinking, ‘Hey, if it works in my village, it will work elsewhere!’ To my surprise, it became much bigger than what I imagined at frst,” he said.

The program socially unites local communities or banjars. It runs in two hundred villages – and counting. Everyone helps each other collect plastic waste from their homes, the streets, the rivers, the beaches, everywhere to exchange with rice every month. “The program helps feed thousands of families on the island and gathered nearly 300 tons of plastic waste for recycling. It really brings happiness to everyone – teenagers coming in with a smile to get rice for their families – parents, single people, old people, children with their fathers and mothers. This is what keeps me going, just seeing how excited they are,” he said.

Janur Yasa feels gratified to see how much people enjoy bartering their plastic waste for rice. He is proud to be able to resolve the issue of plastic waste, which pollutes the environment and is a danger in many ways, even if partially. Generally, the Balinese are very close to nature. They believe that nature is part of their souls, and they really care about the environment. But why does plastic pollution occur in Bali anyway? The answer: lack of education and lazy habits.

“That’s the only thing you can do. Here, we educate people in order to change their habits. My method is by showing people example through my own actions. Me and my staff, we educate the people on how to separate types of plastic waste, we show them that it is fun as well as useful,” Janur Yasa said. “People here gather and work very well with each other indeed. We show people how to help their families and each other by doing their part. So as soon as they know why plastic waste needs to be disposed of properly, as soon as they are taught how to do it, they are eager to help out and make changes in Bali.” (des)