On Tuesday, Indonesia was named the second-largest contributor of plastic waste in the ocean. Its 187.2 million tons dumped annually trail only the 262.9 million tons that China dumps. According to government data, people consume up to 9.8 billion plastic bags every year in Indonesia. Of those, 95% are types of plastic that take many years to break down. The Jakarta Post wrote:
Plastic shopping bags are so resilient, pervasive and toxic that we have arrived at a tipping point, the entire ecosystem is off balance, with tens of thousands of turtles, whales, other marine creatures and sea birds dying each year after having ingested plastic material.
However, a new era will begin on February 21 (National Waste Awareness Day), when Jakarta and 8 other Indonesian cities start charging customers for plastic bags. The exact amounts will vary because they will be up to regional governments and retailers, but officials have indicated they will probably range from $0.05-0.50 per bag. Hopefully they lean towards the higher end, because the greater the price, the faster people will change their shopping habits. For example, after Hong Kong began charging people $0.50 per plastic bag last year, consumption fell 73%.
Additionally, 14 other cities have nominally agreed to implement a plastic bag ban, although they do not appear to be ready by February 21. Municipal planners may be waiting to see how it works in the nine pioneering cities; if proven effective, there could be a rapid expansion throughout Indonesia.
Regardless, Indonesia’s sizable plastic manufacturing industry is anticipating a coming boom as domestic and global growth accelerates. Budi Susanto, vice chairman of trade association Inaplas, expects domestic plastic demand to grow 6% this year to 4.65 million tons, accompanied by a rise in prices of up to 10%. (The primary drivers of demand will be the country’s food and beverage industry as well as the agribusiness sector, he added.)
But future plastics don’t need to be as destructive. Indonesia has already developed a prototype of bio-degradable plastic that is made out of cornstarch, which degrades faster than existing types of plastic, said the Directorate General for Garbage, Waste Management, and Dangerous Chemicals for the Ministry of Forestry and the Environments, Tuti Hendrawati Mintarsih. “We need to speed up the development, especially since there are a lot of examples from abroad which we could use as a reference,” he added. (See Blouin News’ previous feature on bioplastics.)
Indonesia’s plastics industry should get ahead of the curve and invest heavily in biodegradable and recycled plastics. Otherwise, they will be the permanent villains in this drama as the country’s environment and fisheries decline from plastic pollution.
The country also needs to introduce widespread plastic recycling programs. The current status quo — i.e., relying on unregulated “waste pickers” — is far from adequate, since they only remove discarded plastic that can be resold (about 20% of the total).
And there still remains the thorny problems of how to deal with plastic that has already been thrown out. On land, the Jakarta-based startup Pfuze turns plastic bags scavenged from the city’s trash dumps into durable linings for reusable tote bags. And in coastal waters, a recent study found that building a system of floating barriers and platforms that concentrate and collect plastics would be very effective in removing them. A ten-year-long project that placed such collectors near Chinese and Indonesian coasts would remove 31% of microplastics.
The task of ending Indonesia’s plastic pollution is daunting, but it can be done.