The beach at Muncar on the island of Java was revolting. The 400-yard wide, mile-long stretch of sand was feet deep in foul-smelling sauce sachets, shopping bags, nappies, bottles and bags, plastic clothes and detergent bottles. Bulldozers had cleared away and buried some of the huge mat of plastic and sand two years ago, but every tide since then had washed up more rubbish from the ocean, and every day tonnes more plastic was washed down the rivers from upstream towns and villages. Now it was fouling the fishing boats’ propellers.
“We fear for the future,” one elderly woman said. She remembered Muncar only a decade ago as one of the most picturesque towns in Indonesia and a tourist hotspot. “If it carries on like this we will be buried in plastic. We have no choice but to throw plastic into the rivers. Now we are angry. Something must be done,” she said.
That was January 2019. One year later, the beach heaves with plastic but the local government, working with well-funded international advisers, a recycling company and an army of volunteer collectors have worked to stem the tide of plastic reaching its beaches. It will cost millions of dollars and take years but Muncar may soon have its sand back.