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Pulau Plastik - Review & Thoughts

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Educational • Inspiring • Funny • Serious • Tragic • Heartwarming

Pulau Plastik is full of character and contrasts the beauty of Indonesia with the problems this country, and the world faces in dealing with plastic pollution.

“Plastic Island” as the title translates, explores the visibly evident issues as well as the hidden.  From the polluted lands and waters to the illegal imports of plastic waste and the microplastics being found in human bodies and their effects.

Robi, as the lead singer of Navicula, has been one of Indonesia’s most prominent rock musicians spanning a career now reaching its 2-decade milestone.  The birth of his daughter, Rimba, introduced an understanding of longevity and an increased sense of responsibility for the world to which we welcome our future.

The story sees Robi set off on a journey from Bali, across Java to the capital city of Jakarta, culminating in the biggest protest against single-use plastics Indonesia has ever seen.  Every part of that journey is uniquely powerful and displays just how multi-faceted the plastic waste problem is.


Robi is joined by loveable characters and organizations with a shared vision.  Most prominently, Prigi Arisandi, an inspiring ecologist with a great sense of humor, and Tiza Mafira, an activist with strategic prowess in combating the plastic problem.

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The film was so good, that after being lucky enough to get an invite to the Premiere, we decided to take our whole team to go and see it yesterday.  We brought our coconut bowls for popcorn and our tumblers for drinks.  While cinemas can typically contribute to thousands of plastic straws, cups, and food containers every day, they really don’t have to.

To all of our friends involved in making this documentary, thank you!  We are so immensely proud of you! Genuinely, if we didn’t know anyone involved, we would still be giving this documentary a 10/10!

I could talk about this all day, so there’s a few points I’ll explore, if you’re interested.  Otherwise, consider this the end of my review and just go see it for yourself! 


There aren’t really any plot twists or real spoilers with a documentary, but if you prefer to see it without any prior knowledge, skip my thoughts below...


What started as a moment of pure comedy and curiosity, turned into one of the key points of the documentary, and one of the most distinctive lessons on the effects of plastic to be presented, in any documentary.


The message of spoiled lands, contaminated air and suffering marine life make sufficient justification for change to many.  But in asking ecologist Prigi Arisandi, to test his feces, Robi winds up sharing a message that hits even closer to home; plastic is now inside humans and affecting our health.


Amidst a global pandemic, little could hit harder than the realization that it's not just the fish and the birds with plastic in our bodies.  Plastic has become a human health problem as it is an environmental issue.  It’s a reminder that we humans, are as much a part of the environment as every other creature. 


It begs the question, "do we have to wait until we see humans lying dead with people picking bits of plastic out of our stomach, for the general public to start taking this seriously?"


This documentary leaves you with a sense that far more discoveries are left to be made in this area. Particularly when you come to hear the results of Robi's poop test, and later over 100 more.


Wayan Aksara (Trash Hero Indonesia), Yasmin Muridan (Yasminida) & I Gede Robi (Navicula - Pulau Plastik).  Speaking at the Road to Pulau Plastik event in Denpasar.

REDUCE.  REGULATE.  Reuse.  Recycle. 

Perhaps the most important action point we could take away from this film is that reusing, and recycling are comparatively, last resort solutions to the problem.


As long as it costs less to produce new plastics than it does to recycle them, plastics will be produced.  Recycling efforts, whilst helpful, can barely begin to cater with the level of plastic that is being produced.


Regulation and Reducing plastic consumption go hand in hand.  There needs to be regulation that requires us to reduce our plastic consumption.  But until governments make drastic progress in creating and enforcing barriers on plastic production quantities, we must take it upon ourselves.


The apparent lack of concern from the government’s standpoint on pollution shows just how much it is upon us to take this into our own hands and simply say “NO” to single-use plastics.  Make the small but significant lifestyle changes required to leave this planet in, at the very least, an equal state to how we found it.

Scale: Size & Time


Indonesia is the largest archipelago on the planet consisting of 17,000 islands. It is the 4th most populous nation and the 2nd largest contributor to marine pollution.  The documentary shows a journey from Bali to Jakarta, a sizeable distance, but a fraction of this huge nation, and a small corner of the earth.

Drone footage of a 'paper recycling plant' and 'plastic farms' where a blackened sky and vast spaces with plastic to the horizon provide a sense of magnitude.


On a beach cleanup with Tiza Mafira, she highlights how old some of the plastic packaging they’re finding is.  Items are washing up on the shore from decades ago. 


Products that only grandparents can remember even existing are found all over and have barely degraded.

It’s one thing to hear how long it takes for plastic to dissolve, but to begin to witness what it means to be living in the waste of a previous generation is eye opening.  It’s like saying “my children and my grandchildren can clean up after us.”

Image by Jordan Beltran

The President

Jokowi was elected following a historical youth movement that was seen as highly progressive.  His character has always appeared more hopeful and distant from the typical cronyism and corruption that have plagued Indonesian politics for decades.

Our protagonist, Robi, waded through the crowds on a mission to ask straight to the top, what Indonesia was planning on a national level to support reducing plastic waste?

‘Ramah Lingkungan’ translates to ‘environmentally friendly’, and amidst Jokowi’s blanket-statement answer, he is clearly struggling just to remember the words ‘Ramah Lingkungan’, let alone their meaning.  Not receiving a clear answer to your question, is sometimes all the answer you need.

When Robi is asked about what he thought of the Presidents response, his face tells a story of confusion, disillusion, and disappointment in the rare moment a wordsmith is left somewhat speechless.

We hope that the President gets a chance to see Pulau Plastik!

The Truck Driver


Whilst much of the story focuses on the mission of NGOs and anti-plastic campaigners, the truck driver had little to do with the project.  His role was to drive the truck, not to be a part of the documentary.


Yet through being a part of the journey, he came to recognize the importance of the message being shared.  The knowledge he had received, taught him to recognize the problem and declare that he would be conscious to make a difference with his own actions and share this in his home community.


Half the mission is after all, making people recognize there is a problem.  The other half is solving that problem.  Seeing the truck driver caring enough to take significant action is everything we need.  Somehow, the person with the least representation in the whole documentary, turned out to be as much a beacon of hope for change as the activists.


If our humble truck driver can see the problem and choose to take action, so too can the President, the ministers, the governors, the mayors, the law makers, the business leaders, the general public. 

Who do we all choose to support? the polluters working to ruin our planet? or those taking part in protecting it?


UPDATE: After hearing feedback from this post, we learnt that the truck driver, Pak Harun, has been super active in his village since returning home from this trip.  Spreading awareness, organizing clean ups, working together with his village leaders.  Pak Harun says his village is so much cleaner than it was 2 years ago before he went on this journey!


Check out his Instagram, @Persotamania!

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