That Bali Beach Plastic Photo – Did It Change Anything?

The Photos

A couple of weeks ago we took some photos of the plastic on the beaches of Bali that went a bit viral and ended up being seen by more 20million people, but did it really change anything? Let’s get into it.

The photos we’re talking about were taken on December 5th in Canggu, by me Jordan Simons (normally a YouTuber & occasional photographer) on the beach Batu Belig. I didnt expect the international reaction that the photo received and when my phone started blowing up, I was as shocked as anyone that saw it. I like to think it went viral because of the strong message behind it and the impact it had all over the globe, showing a problem that is largely ignored when it comes to talking about ‘paradise’. Here’s the whole story of the photos, how it happened and if it really changed anything.

We started noticing how much plastic was being washed in Bali while going for runs on the beach in the area where we live. It was striking, how much plastic there was. There were sections of the beach where you couldn’t even walk on, let alone jog purely because of the amount of plastic covering the shore.

Seeing the devestation and wanting to do something about it is where we came up with the idea of this photo, which shows my girlfriend, Olivia Dejeu, laying on the beach seemingly undisturbed by the plastic around her. We captioned the image: “Another day in paradise”.

View this post on Instagram

Just another day in paradise 😍

A post shared by Jordan Simons (@thelifeofjord) on

The Social Reaction

Now the next part is where it all started to get a bit crazy. The Bali beach plastic photo started to be shared by people from all over the world on all social media platforms, and was then picked up by news agencies and reshared by multiple influential accounts. Until now, the photo has gathered over 300K likes and 116K retweets on Twitter alone,
with an estimated 17.5 MILLION impressions from the original tweet, more than 100K likes on Instagram and many news articles.

Some people shared it and expressed their sadness and shock about the plastic pollution that’s harming the oceans and our environment. Others reacted to the photo in a confused way, not knowing why Olivia is laying in plastic (fair enough). Others refused to believe it and asked us whether we photoshopped the plastic in. To prove that we didn’t and to show people the reality of the beach, we released this two minute video:

Another Day in Paradise – The Plastic on Bali’s Beaches

We also posted a condensed video of the Bali beach plastic photo to our Instagram and Twitter accounts, showing the immense amounts of plastic on the beach in Batu Belig. The situation was now obvious and again it began to pick up momentum and got reshared by large social media channels and news outlets.

Brent Lindeque (TheGoodThingsGuy) also wrote on his blog about the Bali beach plastic photo and touted it as being 2018’s most viral photo and also the most heartbreaking.

News companies such as Yahoo, BBC, Detik and others shared the photo and asked for interviews. In a matter of hours, the Bali beach plastic photo was been shared and the video of the moment watched across the globe by hundreds of thousands of people. A proud moment for us and an example of how social media can be used towards a positive goal.

So What Happened Next?

Although the social reach is great and the photo shoot was challenging people’s perceptions, I wanted this to go one step further and actually create a positive change in people’s attitudes and in Bali.

Detik, an Indonesian news company, asked the question ‘What comes next?’ and this is what I said:

I hope that this viral photo can also “awaken” more people to care about waste in Bali. This can start from small things, namely by not littering and participating in collecting trash. It’s good if it’s viral with a good message.

We didn’t expect it to receive so much attention, but it means a lot if it made even the slightest impact towards a positive attitude for the environment.

Going one step further, Detik even reached out to the Indonesian government to get an official response to the images. Quoting Detik:

Previously, the Head of the Badung Regency Environmental and Hygiene Service (DLHK), I Putu Eka Merthawan, said that the large amount of waste on the beach was an annual natural phenomenon. He asserted that officials from the district government routinely transport garbage on the beach. 

“It’s been almost decades like this. It’s an annual natural phenomenon, the impact of the monsoon windwest which blows from the northwest of the Indian Ocean “

We have also heard this from multiple sources, that December is always the worst month for things washing up on the beach because of the rainy season. While that may be true, that doesn’t change the underlying fact that all that rubbish and plastic is in the ocean in the first place. THAT is something that we have the power to change.

So What Can You Do?

The truth is, there are many beaches covered in plastic, and this is just one example. But there are also a lot of ways of making a difference. There are plenty of initiatives in Bali for cleaning up the plastic and there are weekly beach cleanups that you can join. This is the same all over the world and it seems to have become a bit of a trend right now – people using their own free time to come together and clean the beaches near them.

For example, we have been involved in multiple beach cleanups mainly in the area of Canggu with the Adventure Bag Crew founded by Jackson Groves and Ocean Mimic – a weekly cleanup community based in Bali. We decided to go back to the same beach and take the same image, but this time without the plastic.

There are many other organisations and individuals around the world trying to make a difference and wherever you are, there are ways to get involved if you want to help.

Imagine if each of us picked up a single bag of plastic from the beach or from nature every time you went outside – it would be a simple action and the world would be a much cleaner, healthier place.

Bali Beach Plastic Photo

The Bali Plastic Ban

So in the end, did this photo with millions of eyes on it really change anything? Well, it might have, or at least perhaps it made some people question their attitude towards plastic. It’s tough to know the true impact of seeing a photo and you can’t really quantify a change in people’s attitudes. But the really good news is that TWO WEEKS AFTER this photo went viral, Indonesia introduced a ban on single-use plastics in Bali – that’s huge!

This ban will come in in 2019 and includes styrofoam, plastic bags and plastic straws. Their overall aim is to reduce marine plastic pollution by 70%.

That is amazing news and we’ve already seen most of the cafes and restaurants here using bamboo straws and we are now being offered non-plastic bags at the supermarket. It’s a massive step in the right direction and we hope to hear more such news soon.

Bali Beach Plastic Photo

While we will never know if our photos and videos had any impact on this decision, at least we can be sure that they challenged many people’s attitudes towards their plastic use around the world. There are many other people fighting this fight and the real credit has to go to The Bye Bye Plastic Girls, that have been championing this cause for a long time.

For me this Bali beach plastic photo this is a great example of using social media for good and it just shows that small actions really can make a difference if enough people get involved. You can read more about the initiatives we get involved in here.

Do you know of any good initiatives to fight plastic pollution? Or have you taken part in any action? Let us know below, we’d love to hear about it!

Our Top 3 Suggestions For You



    As always, we need some “unboxing” like this again to make people aware. So many people with power/influence tend to forgot their capability to made better changes for better earth even though they can. Maybe we are too busy to go on with our life, always seeking money for life continuity/goals. Well maybe thats what developing country’s people do, when we don’t work then we don’t eat. Cheerio

  2. Marcel Deckers says:

    We are now in February 2019. Are there changes to be detected? How are the beaches today?

    1. Jordan Simons says:

      The beaches are much better! There is also the single use plastic ban in effect now and you can see it in most of the shops.

  3. Yes, I like the comment that all individuals can help, such as picking up litter. Welcome news about single use ban!

  4. I enjoyed the creativity behind both photos, the first one raised environmental awareness, the second “make-over” version showed the beauty of a process that has taken place, honestly as an artist I enjoy the aesthetic qualities of both images, I have not personally seen such a contaminated beach in years and this viral quantum leap on social media is perhaps necessary for our Time. Good work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *