In Bali, Desa Potato Head creative compound is not only a guaranteed epic time thanks to the fun it doles out daily but its role model–worthy regenerative actions and sustainability practices mean its hotels, beach club and community gathering spot serves up constant inspiration, too.
MOST PROPERTIES PROFESSING to be eco-resorts and touting sustainable or Earth-friendly practices come off either overbearingly preachy in their tree-hugging zeal or else do far too little to root their greenwashed claims in reality. Bali’s Desa Potato Head commits neither of these all-to-common sins. No, the beachside creative village in Seminyak encompassing an immediately iconic beach club as well as two distinctive hotels, a handful of restaurants and a slew of smile-inducing other amenities manages to quietly be the most innovating, planet-loving, radically effective, circular and dedicated of them all.
Founded and led by Indonesian change maker Ronald Akili, Potato Head’s accomplishments in the last five years from a hospitality standpoint are quite groundbreaking. Most hotels send some 50 percent of their waste to landfills, but after painstaking efforts the compound has now diminished their total refuse to just 3 percent, with the ultimate goal of zero within the next five years. That means a method of recycling or reuse needs to be found for every single baby diaper, cigarette butt (something they’re actually currently in R&D to create a new material with) and, ahem, condom and feminine product tossed into the rubbish bins across the property and in each hotel room.
It’s a challenge from which many of us would likely back away slowly and then run. But the vibrantly creative team, which feels more like family, is beyond enthusiastic, not to mention tireless. All their efforts are on full view—available as an open-source model for environmentally responsible excellence—to guests who take the daily Follow the Waste tour through the back of house.
There it’s impossible to not be impressed by the spectacular array of hyper-organized rubbish from the hotels, beach club and restaurants: bins and boxes for each and every type of waste, from toothbrushes to beer bottles, face masks to oyster shells. The latter are crushed and mixed with Styrofoam, limestone and pigment to be formed into cool homewares including tissue boxes, waste bins, amenity trays and kitchen tools. The bin of little metal bullets from the beach club’s soda maker go to a master bladesmith who uses them to make knives; those beer bottles become drinking glasses. Much of the food waste is taken to a Balinese pig farm; the items they don’t eat—including coconut, citrus, chili and pineapple—goes to the Urban Compost startup. They have truly thought of everything.
Guests make their way past the waste cleaning and sorting area (where staff are encouraged to bring their own refuse from home to be properly processed since Bali has no centralized waste management system), through Balinese artist Nano Uhero’s mesmerizing woven Womb to the place it all comes together, the Waste Lab, where colorful heavy machinery works to shred and press HDPE plastic panels into existence and then cut the terrazzo-esque material into parts for designer chairs, stools, tables and more. Offcuts are shaped into beads that the participants can then use to make bracelets or, depending on the day, they can make candles from used cooking oil and cut wine bottles, or indigo-dye tote bags sewn out of decommissioned linens.
There are plenty of sustainable souvenirs baked into the Potato Head experience that help remind guests once they return home of what’s possible—and mark them as an in-the-know disciple of the brand. Take the recycled aluminum and bamboo water bottle and RPET tote bag made from 35 recycled plastic bottles that you receive upon check-in. That process happens not at a front desk but in an open-air “lobby” beneath Potato Head Studios, the woven ceiling made of recycled plastic bottles and the floor a giraffe print–like terrazzo of waste concrete studded with sunken tropical plants and deep green rattan-like chairs designed custom by Faye Toogood and made of (you guessed it!) recycled plastic.
The plaza beyond represents one of the many best parts of Potato Head: it’s open to non-guests, as in tourists and locals alike, to dine and drink, hang out, work, explore the culturally focused library and peruse the Waste Lab—and features a colossal blue figure by artist Futura 2000 made of thousands of kilos of waste collected across Bali.
Then there’s the architecture and design. The newest parts of the Desa were designed by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA with a sustainable contemporary bent, using local and sustainably sourced materials. The unique pink color of walls comes courtesy of the pigment from handmade temple bricks that make up the majority of Potato Head Suites (formerly called Katamama). Their use of that specialty material on the hotel designed by Andra Matin actually resuscitated an entire village’s livelihood.
Amazingly, from the interiors of the guest studios and suites—well stocked with amenities including locally made toiletries, glass-bottled spirits and reverse osmosis-treated drinking water, cookies and other such treats housed in glass and wood—to the campus around, the only plastic you’ll ever see is on its second (or maybe more) life, transformed from something ordinary into something truly remarkable, not to mention hopeful.
Everything about Desa Potato Head just makes you feel good, inside and out.
There are the morning activations that happen under the rising sun on yoga mats laid atop woven sisal ones with crystals and heavenly smelling flowers set next to each. A mix of meditation and stretching and tai chi and reiki, followed by powerful affirmations, shots of jamu and the pulling of oracle cards. The music streaming station, Headstream, where rotating Indonesian and international DJs spin sounds and music daily, designed to highlight fresh voices, is housed within 564 kilograms of recycled plastic panels. The rooftop bar, Sunset Park, is a responsible place to get a little silly over exquisitely made cocktails, Indo-inflected bites and endless sunset vistas.
And then there’s the dining, which is as thoughtful as every other element, and includes the zero-waste seafood restaurant Ijen, where specials change every few days depending on the sustainably caught catch, and scale-to-tail meals are eaten atop resort-made recycled plastic tables. Tanaman, the psychedelic-futuristic plant-based dinner restaurant, is all about ugly vegetables and using every single part of every single plant: root, seed and stem. That may not sound like the most appetizing ethos, but the imaginative dishes are all wildly delicious, probably because they harness all these oft-forgotten bits and pieces.
There’s nothing static about Desa Potato Head, especially not during the pandemic, when the team planted two syntropic farms (a system of organic, regenerative and hopefully dynamic agriculture) and dubbed them the Sweet Potato Project. In June alone, they produced 340 kilograms of produce and the yield is growing every month as seven people work the land full-time and volunteers help wrap food for delivery to at-risk locals. Later this year, they’ll take their exemplary waste sorting, cleaning and processing show on the road, so to speak, by opening a Collective Waste Centre that will service at least eight neighborhood hospitality business and get their landfill contributions down to five percent.
Because Potato Head is about not only getting radically creative about saving and cleaning up Indonesia’s cherished oceans and landscapes. They’re about inspiring, in the coolest way possible, and spreading the love and consciousness to actually join the journey, too.
Desa Potato Head in Seminyak is about an hour’s drive from Bali’s Denpasar International Airport (traffic depending); Studios from USD 215/night and Suites from USD 315/night
Images courtesy of Desa Potato Head, unless otherwise noted.