broadsheet: “desa potato head bali says no to plastics, yes to good times”
The Seminyak resort and creative hub offers hedonism and wellness amid a load of impeccably upcycled garbage. Find rooftop prawn cookouts, morning-to-morning DJ sets and sunrise meditations, plus a kind of tourism that’s trying hard not to trash the planet.
Desa Potato Head has a rubbish problem.
As I walk up to the five-star resort and beach club’s ceremonial entrance on one of Bali’s most tourist-heavy coastlines – past incense-wafting shrines warding off evil spirits – I’m politely asked to surrender whatever plastic water bottles, plastic bags and other single-use pollutants I might be carrying.
It might seem like a strange introduction to a Seminyak hotspot that draws holidaying crowds with laid-back beachy vibes and designer surrounds. But from the moment you enter the sprawling village-like collection of pools, bars, restaurants, beach suites and other deluxe accommodations, Potato Head’s environmental ambitions are on full display.
That’s because Desa Potato Head also has a rubbish solution.
Toward zero waste
Just past the plastics checkpoint I pass hefty machines, operated by resort staff, shredding plastic lids, bottles and containers like those I’ve just surrendered, before reconstituting the flecks and fragments into ready-to-use building materials. These colour-speckled slabs are then laser-cut into components for chairs, benchtops and other furniture dotted around the resort.
I watch old polystyrene boxes get melted down and mixed with crushed oyster shells gathered from the resort’s restaurants. The goopy mix is then moulded into tissue box holders and hotel room soap dispensers.
It’s an integral part of Potato Head’s effort to become Bali’s first entirely rubbish-free resort. And while he concedes it might not be possible to ever actually hit the zero-waste milestone (there are as yet no scalable recycling solutions for nappies, cigarette filters or condoms), co-founder and CEO Ronald Akili knows sustainability is a critical issue for the hospitality industry.
“Our sustainability journey started when I was surfing with my son in 2017 and we found ourselves swimming in a plastic ocean,” Akili tells Broadsheet. “It was obvious I had to be a part of the solution, not the problem.”
Wellness and hedonism
Desa Potato Head first opened as a beach club in 2010, attracting tourists with pools, bars, restaurant experiences and morning-to-morning DJ sets – all set within a spectacular amphitheatre form framed with 6000 multicoloured recycled timber window shutters. It’s now grown into a sprawling shrine to the yin-yang of wellness and hedonism.
True to its name (“desa” means “village” in Indonesian), Potato Head has swelled over the past decade to include two five-star accommodation experiences, additional dining options, a holistic wellness centre and a glut of other offerings.
Despite its location in the heart of Seminyak, Desa Potato Head dances to the beat of its own drum (and bass). While you might need persuading to leave your modern, timber-lined beach suite – with ocean views, hidden coffee-table minibar and marigold-filled bathtub – grilled prawns on the guest-only rooftop bar, seafood platters on the beach club lawn and a dip in the infinity pool beckon.
Need to escape the beats and the humidity? A full-body massage or a reflective stint in the serene air conditioned library filled with locally published books will do the trick. And for those not able to escape regular life entirely, there are co-working spaces and suites reserved for longer-term artist residencies.
So focused is Potato Head on providing a good time, that no matter your whims or tastes, you’ll rarely notice the waste reduction practices in action, despite their outputs literally surrounding you.
With less than five per cent of the resort’s waste currently ending up in landfill, every part of Desa Potato Head is shaped by sustainability efforts: from bricks surrounding the luxurious new beach suites – formed with leftover construction materials from a previous build – to in-room candles crafted with waste cooking oil and repurposed wine bottles from Potato Head’s restaurants.
“Bali has no proper waste management infrastructure,” Akili says. “When we realised that it was in our power to do something, to process our own waste successfully, we thought that it was our responsibility to do so.”
Past the plastic recycling equipment, into the bustling Beach Club, few visitors would know of the bold and ingenious waste minimisation efforts going on behind the scenes. But, Akili says, whether guests understand the extent of the work being done or not, it’s the resort’s sustainability practices that make it special.
“Our mantra is ‘good times, do good’. We might all be here for good times, but it’s the doing good that sets us apart.”
The good times
With five restaurants and eateries – including an upscale Indonesian diner, zero-waste seafood grill and no-holds-barred vegan degustation overseen by Australian chef Dom Hammond – along with bars, pools and beach access, a visit to Desa Potato Head is considered an almost essential Seminyak activity.
While hotel guests have exclusive access to a private pool area and the Sunset Park bar – replete with gorgeous twilight views – anyone is welcome to enjoy the Beach Club and its surrounds. It’s this non-exclusive engagement with the broader community, which he calls “cultural sustainability”, that Akili is most proud of.
“We’ve been able to subvert the traditional model of hotels where guests are given a private experience, and instead have Desa occupy a public space. The local community has access to the art and music happenings, and can engage with the Desa as a creative village.”
Nightly DJ sets, sunrise meditation sessions, massage studios and a sound healing space – where gentle bell and gong ringing is used to punctuate group meditation sessions – are regular offerings. Then there’s the monthly Headonism weekend that matches big-name international guests with emerging local artists.
“As with everything at Desa, we are inspired by the Balinese philosophy of duality. It is a concept where everything has balancing,” Akili says. “We always have a balance of local and international acts, up-and-coming and established artists, music that is familiar and music that is esoteric. Having a blend of both is important to us.”
Filling a resort with furniture and appointments crafted from repurposed waste is a remarkable meeting of science, creativity and will. But making them worthy of a five-star resort takes the skill of world-class designers with a similar enthusiasm for waste minimisation.
“All of our collaborations come from organic relationships because our vision is very clear,” Akili explains. “These artists, designers and architects see our passion and what we are trying to do, and they feel like they want to be a part of that.”
Key collabs include the newly opened Potato Head Studios designed by OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), furniture by British interior designer Max Lamb and tapestries from artist Faye Toogood. It’s clear Desa’s creative spirit rivals its sustainability efforts.
As I’m checking out at the end of my stay I’m handed a beaded bracelet, offered to me on a silver tray surrounded by freshly picked marigolds. The colour-specked beads are made from reconstituted plastic rescued from the water bottle lids we handed over as we arrived, bound together with elastic gathered (and cleaned) from discarded face masks. It’s a take-home reminder of Potato Head’s ethos that good times are better when they do good.
The journalist stayed as a guest of Desa Potato Head.
Original article by Tristan Lutze. Published on 21 February 2023 (Broadsheet).
BY Desa Potato Head