In Indonesia: Following the Trail of Trash in Gili Trawangan


On my rickety bicycle, I followed the willowy French manager of a local non-governmental organisation as she zipped along narrow paths that led away from the island’s pulsing main road. The innumerable beach bars serving ice cold Bintang, souvenir shops and occasional Irish pub were quickly replaced by unassuming warungs with pre-cooked dishes presented tidily in glass displays and a makeshift football field that was, in that moment, home to snoozing goats.

Some friends and I descended upon Gili Trawangan for a weekend, the largest and loudest of a trio of paradisiacal islands off Lombok’s coast. The island promised, and earnestly delivered, beautiful beaches, stunning underwater worlds and plenty of fun in the sun. The same reasons that brought me there also drew ever-increasing numbers of sun-kissed visitors, seeking out a good time and engendering the hasty development of infrastructure to cater to incoming tastes and needs.


The horse-drawn carriage, or cidomo, serves as Gili Trawangan’s principal waste management tool.

In the distance, following a sharp left past an upscale boutique hotel that proposes a charming village experience with private plunge pools, a sprawling mound of trash revealed itself. With motorised vehicles prohibited on the island, horse-drawn carts take charge of waste collection, making their rounds throughout the day. Horses pulling full carts were trotting across the elevated road to the demarcated dumpsite as we approached, while cows ridding freshly laid heaps of food scraps worked alongside ladies with wide-brimmed hats searching for plastic bottles and aluminium cans to retrieve.


Stumbling upon Gili Trawangan’s overstretched dumpsite, situated behind a boutique property of private villas with plunge pools.

Delphine Robbe has worked on the island for ten years as the coordinator and project manager of Gili Eco Trust, a non-governmental organisation initially established to protect the Gili islands’ coral reefs and now counts tackling waste management issues amongst its principal efforts. Working closely with the local village head, Gili Eco Trust has been rolling out various initiatives to manage the strain of growing waste creation on the island, and their next project involves investing in an incinerator to deal with the problem on site.


In the operation’s nerve centre, where the horses and team reside, recyclables wait to be sifted through and organised before being carted off to the appropriate recycling channels.

For an island that can be exhaustively explored on bicycle in two leisurely hours, Delphine shares that nearly five tonnes of rubbish are generated each day, all of which has to be transported to the mainland for either disposal or recycling. A barge undertakes the journey thrice a week, but the dumpsite is filling up faster than it can be emptied, leaving behind a blemish in paradise.

Find out more about Gili Eco-Trust’s work and follow them on Facebook. For my adventures with trash in Singapore, read my full article in Esquire Singapore’s January issue or have a look at the abbreviated story online


One response to “In Indonesia: Following the Trail of Trash in Gili Trawangan

  1. That is so sad and very disheartening. I visited the island many times in the 90’s prior to any kind of upscale resort. Back then it was purely a backpacker destination and took an entire day to arrive by bus, ferry, bus, and small boat. The trip would leave Bali in the early morning hours. Back then it was just a paradise. At night there would be beer and some food…during the day more of the same. You could walk around and over the island and it was clean. It is a shame to hear about all the trash now.

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