Accepting rubbish

accepting rubbish

Having understood that wishing things were different from what they are, creates conflict, I am exploring the art of acceptance. Accepting does not stop me from dreaming, working towards changing my habits and improving the world around me. On the contrary, realising that battling with ‘what is’ is a waste of energy – especially when it is entirely outside of my control – can free me to focus on right actions. So what happens when I face rubbish?

Last year, my son and I lived in Bali for ten months, but mostly stayed away from the tourist areas of the south. On a windy January day, our friends took us to the main beach in Kuta on the South West shore of the island. It was a particularly bad day for business. The ocean was spurting plastic waste onto the white sand. It might have been to do with the currents or the tide, but with every wave more disposable cups, plastic bags, flip flops, shampoo bottles and the like kept on being pushed up the beach. There were three bulldozers piling the waste into temporary pyramids, not to mention teams of local Balinese people raking the unwanted sea offerings into large baskets. I had been warned, but it is always different when you see it first hand and catch a whiff of sewage malodour.

My first reflex was to find the whole thing unacceptable. How can people allow this to happen? Surely there must be something the government can do. Why don’t the rich nations provide money and resources to solve this problem at the source instead of spending so much money on weapons? Just like a football spectator commenting on the game, I imagined all sorts of ‘if only’ scenarios. The truth of the matter was that other than joining in with a rake there was little I could do there and then but accept the situation. There was no point in me being tense and angry.

We are taught that accepting is a sign of weakness and that adversity will give us the motivation to act. We may believe in ‘Zero tolerance’, ‘War on Waste’, and “campaigns against” to make things right. However, this may bring more conflicts, more confusion. We want peace, and we are ready to battle. We may start to invent sides, the wrong people that litter and the good people that recycle. I am not an advocate for inaction; I am questioning the act of reacting.

Instead, I am suggesting that right action may start with accepting ‘what is’ and from understanding the facts before we jump to some conclusions. It does not mean that we are going to ignore or give up on the issues. In looking closer, we may come to understand that we are responsible for some of that waste and that consumption, convenience and greed is the source of it all. Accepting does not mean that we agree with it.

There is a difference between accepting in a fatalistic way and accepting in a compassionate way. Moving from resignation to compassion forms the basis of the art of acceptance. Once we feel compassionate with an issue, we feel more connected with it and in a better position to do something about it. To start with, we may make small steps – learn what is possible – and then we may progress to making bigger steps. There is a large number of things we can do.

During our fourteen months abroad, I always carried with me a reusable bottle, a glass straw and some canvas bags. I even have a label inside my wallet with the question: “do I really need this?” I have recycled every bit of refuse that we could, I have cleared our lane of rubbish few times, and I encouraged everyone that came to the Green School Tours to do the same. Green School invites everyone in the community to sort and bring their rubbish and unwanted belongings to Kembali (the school’s recycling centre) for reuse, recycling and responsible disposal. Finally, I would encourage you to support an initiative started by two Green School students to rid Bali of single-use plastic bags by watching their TED talk, by signing their petition and by spreading the “Bye Bye Plastic Bag” message. The campaign is actively involved in understanding the underlying issues and in finding coordinated solutions.

Most of us do not want to have anything to do with rubbish, and this is why it is such a problem. Accepting it and understanding that it has as much to do with us as with anybody else is a good place to start. Not making a conflict of it, is also an imperative if we want to do something about it.


One sentence journal – day 17:
“I am picking my son from Sheffield University and will sleep on the floor of his dorm floor for his last night on campus; there is a lot of partying and rubbish is overflowing from all bins.”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Loic Lopez


  1. I pick up along the South Downs Way. One would have thought that walkers out to enjoy the beauty of the Downs would some how know not to leave a trail.

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