One Monday, together with his friends, Jan Bareš went out to the beach and cleaned it up. They cleaned one beach after another together with locals and tourists week by week until an NGO Trash Hero was founded with chapters in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar and Malaysia. Today the NGO is focused on education and recycling as well. Hopefully this interview with graduate of psychology, freediving instructor and conservationist will inspire you.
How did you get from studying psychology to founding an environmental NGO?
You decide about what you will study at university when you are in high school. Then you go to university and once you graduate, you might start travelling and keep exploring. The first two years of my travels, I had ten different jobs from stonecutter to waiter. Trash Hero was founded spontaneously by a couple of people.
How did those people get together?
We lived in an islet, KohLipe, in the national park and we played music, dived and spoke about how sad it was to see thebeaches so polluted. In the past 30-40 years of plastic age nobody had cleaned there. We met one year later and spoke about the same thing. My Swiss friend Roman came up with an idea to go one Monday and clean it up, and so we did. We cleaned up a small beach and everyone was happy. The next week we went somewhere else and we haven’t stopped since then.
Are you still in KohLipe?
Not anymore. The first season was from December 2013 until April 2014. I then went to Indonesia to train in freediving and found out that there was a problem with trashthere, too. I organized a first clean-up. People liked it but after my departure nobody reorganized it. But people started contacting us from different parts of Thailand. I then went to a different islet where clean-ups were organized for three quarters of a year.
Your idea was spreading gradually?
Exactly. I founded a new chapter where we had our 80thclean-up. When it becomes regular and people know about it, it increases popularity. I was spreading the idea by founding chapters and when I saw that people were independent I went somewhere else and did the same thing. Roman was doing coaching on the Internet by answering all the e-mails of people who wanted to help.
How does a clean-up work?
We pick up trash and sort it out. We give everything that can be recycled to those who get some profit from it, we bring other stuff to the scrap yard and the rest ends up in a land-fill. The participation differs, some places tourists and expats are more engaged, in others it is locals. We noticed that usually after one and half yearslocals start to engage. There are two to four organizers in each chapter and people who participate regularly.
I am interested in how the locals perceive the problem of trash. When I was in India, I had the impression that people did not even see it.
The tropical paradise has a plastic cover on it. The photos of clean white beaches shown in travel agencies are a myth. I think that locals do not see the trash. Even educated people throw trash away. Some people are able to tell you that Indonesia has a big issue with trash and at the same time they throw trash on the ground. Environmental consciousness is low here.
What are the reasons?
Another thing is that the infrastructure here is built in a different way. In the Czech Republic you have bins and containers for recycling in every corner. Here you have bins only here and there and they are divided into organic and non-organic but people do not see the difference. Today we went to see a land-fill in Bali and it was crazy. It was massive – hectares and hectares full of plastic bags exuding black water. It is clear that when it rains, it goes into the soil and then into the sea. People who surf sometimes have skin diseases. In Amed, a Mecca of freediving in Indonesia,you sometimes see more plastic bags than fish. Sometimes the companies throw trash into rivers. Sometimes they are notified and the management makes sure that they bring it to the land-fill but it is not a solution.
What do you suggest as solution?
Upcycling. It is a form of processing trash. The idea which we have about recycling in Europe is skewed. It is rather downcycling. When a plastic bottle is recycled it lowers quality. If you recycle it four times you cannot make a new plastic bottle out of it. It is not an unending process. We suggest creating something from trash. There is no recycling factory in Bali. In small islands there are not even land-fills. I was in a conference in Bali recentlyand we spoke about what we have learnt.
What did you find out?
I spoke about polystyrene. In some beaches it looks as if it has snowed there. Once we picked up only polystyrene and we grinded it and filled the (fat boys) with it. Other time we collected 80 000 flip flops in one beach and we sent it to one man who grinded them, glued them and made new shoes. Another great thing is eco brick invented by Russell Maier. –(fat boys?)
What are they?
Imagine you have a lot of plastic bags, bottles and packing. You take a plastic bottle and start putting all the clean soft plastic trash into it, you press it, fill it and press it until the bottle is full and hard. You would not believe how much trash can get into a plastic bottle. A bottle of 1, 5 liters can take trash of 1-2 weeks. You can use this hard bottle as a brick if you cover it with sand, clay and hay and put a clay plaster on it and you have a wall which lasts 500 years. If there is no UV radiation on it, the plastic does not decompose and nothing exudes. It may be just “another form of land-fill” but a school from these bricks can be built for children as Russellsucceeded to do in the Philippines.
That sounds interesting. I am sure you abide to the three R (reduce, reuse, recycle) rule, don’t you?
Yes, we live according to that. Though, it already starts with refuse which leads to the prevention of trash. You do not need to drink with a straw or take a plastic bag in a store. There is one cool NGO in Bali called Bye Bye Plastic Bags which wants to forbid plastic bags by 2018. What is unbelievable about this movement is that it was founded by two Balian girls who are aged 15 and 13. They started it four years ago and have been lecturing in conferences all over the world. In Trash Hero we say “we clean, we educate, we change and we celebrate”. Cleaning up beaches is awesome. Finding use fortrash is also great. We are thinking up solutions. But what is more important is to tackle causes and that is why we educate children.
How is it going?
Being a garbage collector is perceived as the lowest position but we managed to make the children feel that it is cool to pick uptrash. They are proud of themselves and their friends. Children get a T-shirt after fifth clean-up with a title I am Trash Hero in English and Indonesian and they are very proud of it. This is what I call change. I believe that when they will grow up, they will educate others. I also said that we celebrate. We love to celebrate. Sometimes restaurants sponsor our activities and we get food, beer or even a massage. This keeps people motivated.
How do you get support?
The hardest part is to get support from the local community. I usually come to an island and explain what it is all about and why it is worth taking part. Roman has merit in this since he goes from one resort to another and tries to persuade them to help us. None of us have enough money to fund it all – bags for trash, transportation, gloves, water, fruit, food and beer. We get all of this from local communities. None of us get paid. The restaurants provide food, bars, beer, hotels bags or cars for transporting the trash. Trash Hero is neutral, it is not a part of any business and it does not earn money so we manage to get support.
I appreciate that on your website you mention other NGOs which do similar job. I think it is a pity that NGOs do not cooperate together because of their brand.
Do you have any plans for future?
In the last three years we have grown thirty times bigger. We want to let it spread spontaneously and see how we will evolve.
Thanks for the interview. Good luck!
Copyright: Jan Bareš