Laras Nauna: ‘Beauty comes from a sense of harmony within ourselves and with our planet’

Global plastics activist and marine science graduate Laras Nauna takes us to the shores of Banda Aceh to talk about Indonesia’s plastic waste, her research and Global Plastics Treaty work, and plastic solutions from the sea.


A standup sign in the street showing a woman on a beach holding up a littered Dove sachet. Quote reads "Dove's tagline contradicts what they have done: no beauty comes from trashing our environment."
A giant Dove pump bottle stands in front of a white London building. A Greenpeace activist in a red jacket stands next to it, and it towers over her at around twice her height. The bottle reads "Dove Real Harm" "Real Change starts with YOU. Watch this video" with a QR code. It also reads "Tell Unilever to: Stop selling sachets now. End single use plastic within 10 years"

Plastic waste in my country is hurting people’s health

I started getting into the issue of plastics five years ago, in 2019, at a zero waste workshop in my city in Banda Aceh.

That was the first time I learned the truth about plastic waste.

In Indonesia and in my city, every year, our trash grows – while only 7% of it plastic waste can be processed and broken down. And plastic waste makes up around 12. 54 million tonnes of trash in Indonesia alone [per year, data from 2022]. 

Some of it goes in landfill, but a lot of it’s littered on land near the shore and in the sea. In fact, Indonesia is the second-worst country for plastic pollution in the sea, after China. And some of this comes from countries like the UK.

Areas near landfill sites are really heavily polluted. It’s a major concern for the health of nearby communities, who are getting sick from living near these landfills, which are overflowing. I couldn’t even get a good picture of it – it was so big.

Single-use plastic cups littering the beaches

You know how they sell water in plastic bottles, right? Well here in Indonesia, they also sell water in a single plastic cup, with a peel-off lid to seal the cup. Indonesian people use them for every occasion.

It’s really cheap for 250 millilitres, it only costs Rp.500 [2p]. The clean water is actually just fine here, but people just love to buy them because it’s simple, cheap, and easily distributed.

But they are highly polluting. When I went to my project in 2022 for marine monitoring, this type of plastic waste was mostly what we found on the beach, on the shore.

Plasic bottles and other waste laid out on black plastic sheeting

Collections after a beach cleanup in Pulo Aceh (July 2022) Laras Nauna Izzati Daminiyart

How local reuse on campus led me to the Global Plastics Treaty

My own university is one of the first in Indonesia to integrate zero waste policies on campus (more accurately, my faculty-marine and fisheries faculty, is the first faculty in my university to integrate zero waste policies on campus). They’re banning plastic bottles and cups. You just use your tumbler or your bottle and they serve free water refills.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it’s a really big deal when it comes to my city. 

When I was a student, I was appointed as an ambassador at Break Free from Plastic. My supervisor there then appointed me to become a Global Plastic Treaty ambassador.

Why I juggle marine research and plastic waste monitoring

In my marine science research, my specialty is DNA barcoding of a local fish found in Indonesia’s tropical waters. Its local name is Rambeu. We ask the local fishermen, can you get us this Rambeu fish, so we can do our research.

Put simply, DNA barcoding is the way to identify a certain species, which later could be used to track the population, their ecosystem, and their reproductive cycles. It lays the groundwork for conservation; teaching us how we can protect them in the near future. 

Workers sort fish laid out on plastic sheeting
A researcher in a mask and headscarf adds samples to a machine in a laboratory

I had this plastic monitoring project at the same time. We were collecting all the waste to make a report about plastic identification and its abundance in the targeted area. We also weighed every inch of that plastic waste for further identification based on weight and waste type.

I was doing three days of beach monitoring, and then four days at my laboratory. Juggling both, going from one place to another – it was mostly tiring!

But I think my efforts are worthwhile, as they contribute to a better society in the long run.

Around a dozen people on a beach near the shoreline, with around eight big white sacks in the background. A couple of people are crouching near a fire in the foreground burning from driftwood

Beach cleanup team on Ujung Pancu beach. Laras Nauna Izzati Daminiyart

The future? More marine research – and a plastic substitute from the sea

No matter where I am or what I’m working on, my ultimate goal is to make a positive impact on as many people’s lives as possible.

 In the near future, I really want to pursue my postgraduate and master’s degree.

I also hope that I can get a job in new types of plastics that aren’t made from chemicals. There’s this new substitute plastic which is made from algae, from a company called Evoware.

So I won’t just talk about getting rid of plastic – but working on the solution!

A message to all who support our fight against plastic pollution

I want to tell people what happens in my country and how we are affected. This company’s negative impact can be easily seen in my country – such as their plastic sachets littering the beach. Like the plastic cups, this big international company could find a solution if they wanted to.

I feel rage and disappointment toward them. Mostly disappointment though – because they have beauty as their main tagline. But polluting where we live contradicts that! Beauty comes from a sense of harmony within ourselves and with our planet that we live in.

I also wanted to say thank you to all Greenpeace supporters for being an integral part of this journey. It’s truly uplifting to have so many people that share the same vision and passion.  

Together, I believe we can make a meaningful impact. And every person’s involvement – even just their voice in support of the Global Plastics Treaty or their likes on the Instagram posts – all reinforces the sense of community behind what we are working towards.


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