Indonesia’s Journey to Reduce 70% of Marine Waste by 2025

by Carter Anne Jones*
Pictures: Forest and Kim Starr

Indonesia produces 3.2 million tons of mismanaged trash ever year with nearly 1.3 million tons ending up in the sea. This makes Indonesia the second-largest plastic polluter after China. Last year, Bali declared a trash emergency and used 700 cleaners to collect nearly 100 tons of trash on their beaches. Although, plastic waste does not only effect Indonesia’s marine life, but it can also be found in rivers throughout Indonesia. The Citarum River was declared the world’s most polluted river, yet it’s believed that over 28 million people depend on the river every day for water. Plastic pollution threatens Indonesia’s tourism industry which supplies the country with US$4.6 billion of foreign exchange income annually and employs 13 million Indonesians. It also impacts Indonesia’s overall public health as plastic has been found in 114 different aquatic species with half of those species ending up on our dinner plates. Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs, announced during the 2017 World Oceans Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali that Indonesia pledged to contribute up to US$1 billion annually to reduce plastic waste. He proposed developing new industries using biodegradable materials such as seaweed and cassava to create plastic alternatives. Indonesia has also talked about a plastic bag tax and has already banned single use plastic in Denpasar. The ultimate goal is to reduce 70% of marine waste by 2025. Indonesia is located at the center of the Coral Triangle, which contains one of the world’s richest coral reef ecosystems. The Coral Triangle is vital for both food security and tourism within Indonesia. It is predicted that if we continue polluting at this rate we will have more plastic than biomass in the world’s oceans by 2050. Poor waste management infrastructure, lower socioeconomic communities, and lack of public understanding are a few of the problems Indonesia will face in its efforts to combat marine waste and reach the goal of reducing marine waste by 2025.  


Local Government Initiatives in Indonesia

Indonesia has been criticized for being too eager when it comes to eliminating 70% of its marine waste in seven short years. During 2016, Indonesia implementation of a plastic tax of Rp.200 (1p) per plastic bag was trialed in 23 cities across Indonesia. The results did show a decrease in plastic bag use, but the tax was met with notable resistance from retailers and has been the reason the Indonesian government is hesitant to enact a nationwide tax. The concern is that if you just impose a plastic tax on bags or expand the tax to plastic packaging it will only affect the country’s poor populations, as they have limited access to clean water meaning that Indonesians are already spending a large amount of their income on bottled water. Due to criticism of the excise tax, some have suggested a tax on plastic packaging that cannot be recycled, such as “straws, microbeads, and Styrofoam”, but not include water bottles, which can be recycled. Government initiatives are a good starting point, but if they are not paired with public education it will not create a long lasting impact. It is important the local communities understand why recycling and the decreasing of single use plastic is important. A focus also needs to be directed to Indonesia’s waste management plan. This process loses 1.1 million tons of local plastic trash, because it becomes too dirty in the landfills to be used in Indonesia’s recycling industry. Luckily, a developmental plan has just been released. It has a broad focus on the handling of trash transportation and minimalizing the spillage from pick up to drop off. It also aims to create a safe working atmosphere for waste pickers. Jokowi also plans to issue new regulations to speed up the prosecution of river polluters, especially corporations. The Indonesian military has also started a large-scale clean-up operation with the hope of preventing public littering, as well as to help villagers build septic tanks.


International Cooperation among Indonesia and other Countries

If successful Indonesia could be used as a model for many different countries around the world attempting to lower their amounts of single use plastic. Indonesia recently joined the Global Plastic Actions Partnership (GPAP) which works with local businesses and global partners to create solutions to reduce plastic pollution and advance a roadmap for implementation. GPAP is hosted by the World Economic Forum and aims to redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy. As Indonesia continues to work to reduce marine plastic this creates and issue for Australia. Indonesia has taken 19% of Australia’s total waste, but now it vows to enforce tight restriction around what recyclable waste will be accepted. At this point, the recyclables from Australia are not always in the best condition, which means Indonesia is not able to use them. Hopefully, Indonesia’s new environmental stance will force Australia to stop offloading trash to other countries and invest in their own re-manufacturing facilities.


NGO’s and the Individual

Avani Eco is a company within Indonesia that is currently converting cassava into plastic bags and straws, but the bags are 50 percent more expensive than regular plastic bags. This would again force many lower socioeconomic families to bear the brunt of these environmental efforts. While looking for alternative methods for packaging is necessary, it is also important to ensure the production cost remains relatively low. Education is another important tool the Indonesian government can do to help combat marine waste. Programs such as the Bali Environmental Education Center (PPLH) and the Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement (GIDKP) have mentor programs for high school students encouraging them to become leaders in solving environmental problems. While beach clean ups are not the answer to solving the plastic issue throughout Indonesia they are a good way for students to gain a better understanding of the plastic crisis that Indonesia is facing. Beach cleans ups can be used to motivate communities throughout the country, and teach them about the effects plastic pollution has on the marine life and their own communities.

The new pledge is at least a step in the right direction. The Indonesian government has admitted it is facing a problem and has created a platform for discussion. They are actively seeking for new ideas and solutions. It is important that Indonesia remains proactive about finding a solution and not back away from taking hard stances, even as large corporations or fellow countries continue to push for the overturn of restrictions. As Indonesia continues to head into the 5-year countdown it is important that these initiatives begin to yield concrete results and not just remain as empty promises.


*Carter Anne Jones is a member of Baylor University’s Class of 2020 with a major in International Studies and Russian. She is currently learning Bahasa Indonesia at UGM and works as a program intern for ASEAN Studies Center from March-May 2019.