We Moved Halfway Around the World so Our Son Could Learn How to Save It

Moving from New York City to Bali was the most daring thing my family ever did, but it taught us how to truly take care of our planet.

mother and son on cliff in bali
Visiting Bali changed her whole view. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Lucas

My son, Noah, was born in New York City seven years ago and has been separating plastic, cardboard, and compost since he was tiny. But it wasn't until last year that we decided to truly do our part for the planet.

In 2014, on vacation in Indonesia, my partner and I came across Green School Bali, which focuses on teaching sustainability. We were inspired. Years later, as we read more and more dismaying news about the climate crisis, we felt it was time to act. Could we move to Bali? Yes, we decided, we could. It was the most hippie thing we'd ever done, but we vowed as a family to dedicate a year to Green School and decide what to do from there. We hoped that the knowledge we gained about caring for Mother Earth would change our whole family's behavior.

At the school, food is served on banana leaves. Dry-erase boards are fashioned from old car windshields. But the school's surroundings are anything but idyllic. When we got to Bali, we smelled smoke everywhere: All over the island, people burn plastic trash because there's nowhere else for it to go. We learned that Bali is in crisis, producing 1.6 million tons of trash each year—far more than the island can fit into landfills. A lot gets dumped into the ocean and then washes ashore, clogging Bali's beaches with garbage by the ton. America's waste problems aren't as visible, but even in the U.S. there is no such thing as "throwing it out." Whatever we toss goes into a landfill or the ocean. Our only response is to reduce waste. (Humans produce, on average, 2.2 billion tons per year.)

We stopped buying groceries packaged in plastic and brought glass containers to the store to refill with rice, pasta, sugar, flour, and detergent. (Shampoo and conditioner bars have changed my life too!) We make our own toothpaste, buy secondhand clothes, and borrow things like corkscrews and phone chargers.

Our little family has made big changes because we've seen firsthand that tons of trash add up to more waste than our world can handle. It took traveling across the globe to learn that truly helping the planet starts with what you do at home.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's April 2020 issue as "Think Big for Your Family."

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