Bali: an interview about sustainability

Bali is one of the top world travel destinations. Every year, millions of people visit this island in Indonesia. I was recently on holidays in Bali and I can say that its fame is deserved: it is an amazing island with beautiful Nature sceneries. And although it is extremely touristic, it is still possible to find places where you will be almost alone in Nature :).

However, Bali has a huge problem yet to be solved: the rubbish management and plastic fires.  Although I saw this with my own eyes in Bali, I do believe that many other lower income countries hold this same problem. And it is important for us in the west to become aware that this is happening! Do you think the rubbish that flows in their rivers and end up in the ocean or the plastic fires with extremely toxic particles stay only in Bali? Of course not. It is important that our governments and we all start doing something to help lower income countries solving this huge problem. This would not only help them directly, but also help the whole world as well. In my opinion, a key element to solve this problem is education. But even if the population is aware of the problem, if there is no rubbish collection, there is not much that they can do. So, it is crucial that the rubbish is collected and that appropriate recycling stations are also available in these countries. Also, avoiding producing so much rubbish is essential and again education plays here an important role. This can be achieved by composting, avoiding plastics or packages whenever possible, and of course reducing, reusing and recycling.

In Bali, I had the opportunity to stay at Sarinbuana Eco-Lodge for a few days. It is a beautiful place in the Balinese mountains, with local organic food. In this lodge, surrounded by an amazing tropical fruit forest, sustainability is one of the top priorities: for example, only natural non chemical housekeeping methods are used, most of the food served to guests in their restaurant is from their own permaculture garden; composting, recycling and rubbish collection are important. These are only a few of the topics that Linda vant Hoff (the owner) and I discussed. In this article, I would like to share with you our conversation, where we went through interesting topics, such as sustainability and the current rubbish problem in Bali.

Ana: Thanks a lot Linda for this interview. You have a really beautiful place here. How did you come up with the idea of building this eco-lodge and why Bali?

Linda: When I met my husband, he already had this particular house that we are sitting in right now. It was originally a very simple house with a grass roof and coconut wood poles with 1 solar panel for power. The land was cleared for raising Bali cows. We have planted all the trees you see here. I felt in love with the place and we used to come back here every year. My husband had studied Environmental Sciences and when our boys were 4 and 7, we decided to come to Bali to put his work to use. It was a change of lifestyle. We decided to come here because at the time there was a problem here with water and rubbish management  –  it’s actually the same problem the Balinese are facing today, and this was 22 years ago. We came here and started an NGO (Non Government Organization) to help to clean up Bali, to manage rubbish and water.

Ana: Was it difficult in the beginning to live here? You are a bit isolated from everything and I guess you didn’t even have electricity…

Linda: It was all a bit of a pioneering adventure being the only foreigners in the area, we could only access our property by 4WD car, the roads were terrible and we were far from any city center. We used candles & kerosene lamps for lighting, life was very simple back then.

Ana: Can you explain us what is an eco-lodge?

Linda: An Eco lodge is a business which takes into consideration and works in unison with the natural, physical and social environments. For example, we try to bring economic gain to our local community by offering freelance work to trekking guides, masseuses and locals to host our workshops; we use natural housekeeping and pest control methods so we minimize our impact on the environment; we use sustainable land management methods to reduce erosion and improve soil quality. In the kitchen, we have a no beef policy (cows are the single most damaging animal to the environment), we also support orangutan habitat by refusing to use palm oil. We have many policies in place at the lodge, too many to mention here, our sustainability practices can be viewed in full at our website.

Ana: What do you use for cleaning?

Linda: We use vinegar, baking soda and eucalyptus oil to clean our rooms and damp newspaper for cleaning windows. For natural pest control we use a local product made from chili. Nowadays, a room that is considered “clean” is one that has been sprayed all over with chemicals, In my view, this is an enclosed toxic environment and doesn’t reflect cleanliness.

Ana: That’s true. I believe, however, people are becoming more aware of this and trying to change. For cleaning, for some years that we have been actually also only using vinegar, baking soda and essential oils. What do you use for washing clothes?

Linda: We use soap nuts, as we call it. It is a local nut. You just put it in water in a container. Here, we can just put it in the sun, but you can also boil it. Then, you add this liquid to your clothes and it foams up.

Ana: Sounds good! I would like to go back a bit to the beginning, when you got started here: what did you do to actually start building this eco-lodge in this eco-system?

Linda: Well, we started this as our own family house. So, the whole eco-lodge just evolved slowly over time. People wanted to come and stay here, so we built the “jungle house” and the other buildings popped up, because the people wanted to come and stay here. Nobody was really thinking about a business at that point. It was just a place to meet. We did permaculture courses here in the first 5 years. So people would come from around the world and do a permaculture course here for 14 days.

Ana: Which materials do you use for the buildings? Do you use only bamboo and wood?


Linda: This building where we are now sitting in was built by hand, as we didn’t have any electricity. The Balinese builders are just amazing and they can do everything from wood work to bamboo work. They are very talented. That beautiful building over there, the “bamboo bale” (used for yoga) for example, I wanted it to be round, to use bamboo and a grass roof. From a sketch that I did, the Balinese builder came up with a design and made it happen. It’s really fun and creative to build here.

Ana: So, for all the lodges or bungalows you have here, do you use only natural materials like wood and bamboo?

Linda: We use some cement as well for some houses and terracotta tiles for the floors, which is a natural material. There is a lot of maintenance required to build with natural materials, but we feel it is worth it.

Ana: And concerning the garden, how did you get started with the garden?

Linda: My background is in organic farming and gardening. We used to bring seeds from Australia to get started, as they didn’t have western veggies here.

Ana: But besides these western vegetables, you also planted tropical trees, like banana, papaya, coconut…

Linda: Yes, we have planted all the trees and plants on our property, there are over 150 useful, culinary and medicinal plants in our garden. It is really important to keep the local varieties going. As you know, we are losing seed varieties, especially in the EU [European Union], because the EU only requires certain types of fruits and veggies and if it’s not one of those, they don’t want it, so heirloom varieties can disappear.

Ana: In Switzerland for example, there is this company called ProSpecie Rara, which keeps old and rare types of seeds…do you have something like that here too?

Linda: In Australia, we have. In Bali, no.

Ana: Are those types of seeds what you use here, like the old types?

Linda: They have stopped sending them outside Australia now, it’s against law now to send these seeds overseas. So we can get them delivered in Australia, but not here.

Ana: But here you have already your own seeds I guess?

Linda: Yes and some others we can get organically, but others it’s not possible.

Ana: In the beginning, was it difficult or did you have a lot of help from the village? Were they always very friendly?

Linda: The Balinese are incredibly welcoming people, they’ve always helped us.

Ana: Indeed, we have been realizing that the majority of people here are quite friendly. As you mentioned, and as we could see, you have here a big edible garden, with lots of fruit trees, vegetables and medicinal plants. I know that you apply some permaculture principles to grow this garden. Could you tell us which permaculture principles you have been using here?

Linda: Do you know what the vetiver is? It’s the base of many French perfumes, but it’s also used for erosion control. We plant living walls around the garden to stop soil erosion, this is important because we have a lot of rain here. So it’s a lot about land management, drainage because all the nutrients get washed away with so much heavy rain. So that’s one point: land management. Do you know about swales? Swales are man-made mounds that follow the contour of the land to reduce soil erosion, you can plant into these and create productive gardens, they also direct water flow and help rainwater to penetrate the soil to fill up the ground water instead of flowing away. Also, having many plants together is important, like companion plants. Mulching is also important.

Ana: What about water management/retention?

Linda: We store it in tanks and we can then use it as a reservoir, because actually we run out of water in times of the year. Two years ago, we had 7 months with no rain and we were close to buying water, which is hard to believe in such a wet environment. When it doesn’t rain for 7 months, there’s no way to store enough water. But we do store a lot of water, we have 8 water tanks.

Ana: How does the permaculture benefit the ecosystem?

Linda: We have planted many trees and flowers here over the years, and have seen a major increase of birds and butterflies. Every year we get more and more.

Ana: We have noticed in the evening, when we go to sleep, the noise of the birds and insects around is just incredible…I never heard something like this!

Linda: It’s like a meditation DVD… It’s the sound of an intact ecosystem – it’s alive!

Ana: That’s amazing. Do you teach other people to build their own eco-lodge?

Linda: Yes, we have a PT company where we consult on projects, bringing sustainability to either existing resorts or planning from scratch. You can see our projects at

Ana: And how does your activity here influence the people from the village where the lodge is located?

Linda: Our eco-lodge is probably the biggest income source for local people in the area. We bring in freelance staff for driving, trekking, workshops and massages. So it’s not just only our full time staff that have the chance to earn extra money, we can reach out further to our community to around 30 families. Our community brings great benefits to our lodge, we couldn’t have created our eco-Lodge without their knowledge, talent and support.

Ana: Linda, now I would like to talk to you about rubbish. We have been in some other villages in Bali and we saw people burning all kinds of rubbish, namely plastic bottles, and we were quite shocked. When you burn plastic, you release into the air many extremely toxic compounds. How is this problem being currently handled here?

Linda: Yes, that is a major problem in Bali, which needs to be addressed. The number 1 complaint from guests that come to Bali is the rubbish. It’s always about education. We have such good education in the west that we cannot just go to a beautiful place and enjoy it if we see rubbish. It’s all about education. At our local school, we provided rubbish bins and we asked them to put the rubbish in the bin. Once the children had a place to put the rubbish, it was easy. We also pay monthly to pick up the rubbish and take it to the local refuse center. There they recycle whatever can be recycled. So, you have to educate and provide the infrastructure to deal with it. As soon as the bins were in the school, it didn’t take a day to educate the people to put the rubbish in the bin. Then, of course if you put it in the bin and nobody picks it up, they just burn it, because what else would they do? It’s burning, burying or throwing it in the river, which is very common in Bali. And then, of course it ends up in the ocean. The government has introduced a fine for throwing rubbish into the river and also have agreed to ban all plastic bags in 2018.

Ana: We have seen people burning plastic and kids playing right next to these fires. So, we were really frustrated and decided to keep our plastic bottles and bring them back to Switzerland to let them be recycled there.

Linda: It’s really bad for the kids. They make fires around 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. and we discovered that’s when there might be mosquitoes around. So they are actually burning their rubbish and managing mosquitoes at the same time. Mosquitoes are only there because there is unmanaged habitat nearby where mosquito larvae can flourish, i.e., still water.

Ana: In other hotels, we have been asking if they recycle PET, and people are looking at us like “what is PET”?

Linda: Well, there’s no point in recycling if there isn’t a recycling plant to manage this.

Ana: But here, I was told that you do recycle. So, what do you do with PET? Do you send it abroad or to another island to get recycled?

Linda: We separate as much as we can and things that we know will be useful and can be recycled like cardboard and glass bottles. Once a month, we pay to collect all the rubbish from the area. In general, the locals don’t generate that much rubbish, because they pretty much live from around here. The rubbish is taken to the refuse center and the people that work there go through everything and use what they can. They are very good at recycling what they can. But it is indeed a big problem. It should have been addressed 20 years ago.

Ana: But are you seeing changes happening?

Linda: Yes, I do.  The cities are much cleaner; they collect the rubbish there. But there is a lot of corruption here. The rubbish trucks are there, but they go off and carry other stuff, like sand, or do other jobs to make money instead of picking up rubbish.

Ana: I think many people now start becoming aware of environmental issues and looking for eco-solutions also while traveling. So, do you think that eco-tourism is the future of tourism?

Linda: Yes, I do! Absolutely. Sustainable tourism has been growing exponentially for years.

Ana: What recommendations would you give to people to be more eco or sustainable while traveling?

Linda: Obviously, choosing an eco place to stay! And I really think this is possible, there are so many places out there. But check if they really are eco-friendly, because some of them are ”green washing”.

Ana: And what about handling their own garbage? Trying to avoid plastic bags and so many plastic bottles, maybe bringing their own. We should have definitely brought our own bottle to refill. We read that the tap water is not drinkable and we didn’t know that there were some refilling stations (although not everywhere).

Linda: Yes, definitely. There are several stations around Bali where you can refill your bottle.

Ana: Linda, thank you so much, it was really nice to chat with you!

Linda: Nice to have you here!


Please, remember that to try to be as sustainable as possible also when you travel! I hope you liked this article. Leave me your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

Live healthy & sustainable,


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