ecoTalk: Intan Ambara


Meet Intan Ambara who is taking action to making her village in West Selemadeg, Tabanan, free from waste.

It takes around two hours to get to Intan Ambara. She lives—and work—in Angkah Village, West Selemadeg, to the west of Bali (still in Tabanan region), far from the madding crowd of Badung or Denpasar where, unfortunately, almost all of the environmental actions are taking place. (Though to be fair, she might think we are the one who lives far away from her.) But look closely, and you’ll find concern citizens in the remotest pocket of the island.

Take a peek at Intan’s IG account, for example, and you’ll find a voice yearning for a zero waste environment, especially in the village she calls home. “I grew up in Surabaya, but then I moved back to Bali after I got married,” says Intan (28), who works as Operational Staff at her village administrative office. “And in the city, there’s always a truck that’ll collect your waste, but not so here in my village where each household have to be responsible for their own waste. That’s why they end up burning it or dispose it to the river or on empty land.”

But at least she is being part of the solution: from using reusable products to composting her food waste to involving students from Yayasan Eka Chita Pradnyan where she volunteered as an English teacher to do a village clean-up. Read more about the sweet-natured mother of two in our latest ecoTalk below.

How were people reaction when you told—or show—them about a zero-waste lifestyle?

They were actually quite receptive because this particular lifestyle doesn’t add the number of waste that we already have, more so because the point of a zero waste life is that we reduce our consumptive behavior. My husband and parents definitely support it, and even my friends show interests in using reusable items that I often share on Instagram.

We saw on IG that the place where you work—BUMDES, or village-owned enterprise—collect plastic bottles, so is it safe to say that there are steps towards a responsible waste management?

At BUMDES we have a shopkeeper, and he was the one who initiated the collection of plastic bottles, so it’s more of an individual action instead of a collective one. I voluntarily help collect plastic bottles around the office, so does one kindergarten teacher (the village office shares an area with the school) who collects the plastic bottles and food packaging that are used by students. We put it all in a bag/bin designated for plastic waste. 

Same goes with Eka Chita Pradnyan Foundation—the manager of the foundation separates her plastic waste and sells it to the independent waste collector (pemulung). But the foundation doesn’t have a compost bin yet—it’s still in the planning phase. Most of the biodegradables or food waste are given to pig farms.

Tell us how you started volunteering for the foundation?

I just happened to see their sign by the side of the road when I was on the motorcycle with my husband and kids. Then a few days later—14 February 2017, to be exact—I went there and asked the foundation whether they needed an English teacher because I have the skill (I’m currently finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in English at Universitas Terbuka Denpasar). They said yes, and two days later I started teaching.

Is becoming a teacher your calling?

Well, actually the real calling for me is becoming a teacher to my own children, and I never expected I’ll become a real teacher to other children because I didn’t study the craft formally. So my approach to teaching at the foundation is completely instinctual and luckily the educational setting there is informal.

And other than teaching English to the kids around the village, I also try my best to educate them about the environment. We upcycle plastic bottles into plant containers, straws and bottle caps into hanging decorations, and last month we held a workshop with the Bring Your Tumbler community to create eco-bricks.

So what reusable items do you have?

Oh I have so many! I have a menstrual cup, cloth-based sanitary pad (which I used alternately with the menstrual cup); cloth diaper (called clodi that I bought online); various reusable bags (I have bags from Green Peace’s campaign #PantangPlastik, ecoBali’s Net Bag and Zero Waste Bali bag from when I attended Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Journey talk show, National Geographic parachute bag from winning their #7HariTanpaKamu online contest, cloth bag from @bumi.goods that I won from their environmental poetry contest, organic cotton bag from Organic Cup from their giveaway #NewPeriod, and I also have a wet bag to put wet clothes after a day at the beach or swimming); plastic and glass tumbler; stainless steel straws and  stainless/bamboo cutlery; glass jars to buy food in bulk; glass bottle for breastmilk and used syrup/kombucha/kratingdaeng glass bottle to store chia seeds, apple cider vinegar, and VCO); aluminum box for soaps/shampoo bars/cream/lotions/toothpaste/deodorant; handkerchief; and cloth wipe or cotton pads to replace tissue or cotton.

Which do you find more useful in your personal life?

The menstrual cup, because it really helps in reducing single-use sanitary pad waste. When I moved back to Bali, I have no idea where to dispose of it. In our village there are no waste bins nor waste collector—each household have to manage their own waste. That’s why I switched to a reusable and washable cloth-based pad. Once I found out about the menstrual cup, I saved up some money to buy it.

And it’s super helpful in many ways not only for me but for the environment as well as it’s sustainable. Same goes with the diaper—I’ve reused them from my first child to the second.

And what zero waste actions have you done at home?

For biodegradable waste like fruit peel, I just started this year to learn to make eco-enzyme as a multipurpose home cleaner. I also have a compost hole in my garden for kitchen waste and leftover food, initially it was a square 50×50 hole but then my husband made a bigger compost bin double the size.

My in-laws also throw in leftover coconut leaves (janur or selepahan) from making banten (Balinese offerings); the difficult part is because we still live with our in-laws, sometimes you can still find staples or pieces of plastic in the waste they throw in.

Even when we do have plastic waste, I collect the ones that are clean (or can still be cleaned) like instant noodle packaging to make eco-brick or send them to waste bank. For now, the location of waste banks are far away from my home, so sometimes I just store it at home first.

Meanwhile, for plastic bottles, we rarely buy them, but sometimes my in-laws or guests do, then I just gather it and sell it to pemulung who sometimes would trade it with a bucket made from recycled plastic.

At the moment, I’m also trying to switch to more eco-friendly skincare products like using a shampoo bar, toothpaste from VCO and baking soda, refillable body lotion, natural deodorant, and sunscreen that doesn’t damage the ocean corals.

My husband and father-in-law now use a stainless steel razor instead of the disposable plastic ones. Even for dental floss, I store in glass container so I can just buy the refill, and the floss is 100% made from silk.

There are no easy ways to minimize household waste and every family members have to be on board [to help manage it]. The most important thing is to separate at source and reducing our consumption of plastic bottles and straws. Especially the latter one—you only need straws for children who are just learning to drink on their own and people who are sick. And if you do use it, better to use the reusable ones.

It’s also important to make a meal plan, at least for the next three days. We have a pet dog named Klau and we make his food from leftover chicken bones that we turned into soup.

What do you think is the best solution to waste management in your village?

Every household needs to have their own compost systems, especially since the majority of the people here works as farmers. The biodegradable can’t mix with the non-biodegradables, and when we separate then we can reduce household waste up to 50%. And a waste bank can help, too—people can make money from their plastic/cans/glass/paper waste, and they would separate their own waste.

Doing a routine village clean-up with everyone in the village will also help. The village clean-up activity I often hold is limited to the kids and volunteers from the foundation, and even that is focused only in Banjar Samsaman Kaja, not the whole Angkah Village that comprised of eight banjar.


I really hope that we can kind of go back into the past where we go picnic or work in the field carrying a tumbler/thermos and our own glass to drink, and you can drink water straight from nature. Before this era when we are so dependent on plastic, you can drink water from the river. Now it’s heavily polluted with plastic waste and chemical-based agricultural products.

What do you wish to happen in the near future?

I really hope that the Environmental Agency in my region can really push on the educational front to residents of the village regarding nonbiodegradable waste and the products that we consume daily, then campaign for an eco-friendly alternative to vendors and producers.

Our consumptive behavior inevitably will produce waste so it’s inseparable from our daily lives, so we need to have eco-friendly products if we want to create a sustainable natural environment.

We also need regulation to limit the marketing of cigarette because the buds can pollute the environment. Smoking obviously can affect our health, but it’s also detrimental to our environment. That’s why the government needs to regulate the cigarette industry so they don’t easily influence the young generation. Some of the people in my village are smokers, so my village is not entirely free from cigarette buds.

Education on the dangers of burning plastic waste, and providing special outpost to dispose of toxic and electronic waste in places that are easily accessible to people and monitored regularly so people don’t throw away these waste anywhere.

And, of course, facilitate waste bank down to the smallest village so that the collection of separated waste is easy. A waste bank will also motivate residents to separate waste from their own house, plus they can make money from it.

When we have a better living environment, then it will affect people’s health as well. The inhabitants will live in a clean environment, unpolluted, our farms will yield better and healthier produce, and people’s living quality will be greatly improved.

 For more on Intan and her zero-waste actions, please do check out her IG account (@intanambara) and personal blog at




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