Future of the Environment

Indonesia has a plan to deal with its plastic waste problem

A man collects plastic goods in a river littered with garbage in Jakarta December 7, 2009.       REUTERS/Supri  (INDONESIA ENVIRONMENT) - GM1E5C716A501

The Indonesian army had to be called out to clear Bandung's rivers of plastic last year. Image: REUTERS/Supri

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of the Environment

Image: The New Plastics Economy report

In Indonesia, plastic waste is a very modern-day enemy. It’s such a problem that, last year, the army was called in to scoop it out of the river in the country’s third-largest city of Bandung.

Soldiers were deployed on a barge and used nets to fish styrofoam food containers and plastic bags out of the water. “My current enemy is not a combat enemy. What I am fighting very hard now is rubbish, it is our biggest enemy,” Sergeant Sugito told the BBC.

An unwelcome sight for tourists in Bali Image: REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo

Even the holiday hotspot of Bali isn’t safe from the plastic invasion, as tourists arriving on the beach at Sanur, Denpasar, last April had to pick their way through the debris.

Indonesia is second only to China as the world’s largest contributor to the ocean plastic problem - with four of its rivers among the top 20 polluters globally.

But it’s not only the army fighting back: the Indonesian government, in partnership with civil society and businesses, has made a bold step towards addressing plastic pollution - and hopes to set an example for others to follow.

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The Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry are teaming up with the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) to take an innovative and data-driven approach to solving the crisis.

They are also making sure that what they do can be replicated elsewhere. Local waste management data will be collected in Jakarta and used to build an analytical model to evaluate solutions that can contribute to the country’s ambitious national plan to reduce marine plastic debris by 70% by 2025.

Towards a circular economy

Image: The New Plastics Economy report

GPAP aims to transform the current ‘take-make-dispose’ model into a circular economy, where all plastic produced is ultimately recycled and reused. It is set up by the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and The Friends of Ocean Action and hosted by the World Economic Forum.

It works with stakeholders throughout the plastics ecosystem to develop a roadmap of solutions based on the data gathered in Indonesia. This data can then be adapted and implemented in other countries. Its aims include:

  • Reducing overpackaging
  • Using innovative recyclable plastic material
  • Substituting materials
  • Increasing recycling rates
  • Improving waste collection rates

For each of these areas, the model will estimate the investment needed, timeline, environmental footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the impact on people’s lives.

Plastic waste from rivers often ends up in the ocean and then on beaches Image: REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut B. Pandjaitan told the Forum: “We want to see the next generation in Indonesia having a much better quality of life and health than our generation today.

“Through collaboration and teamwork, we can mobilize public, private and community support to safeguard the richness of our marine biodiversity for our children and grandchildren.”

And the world will be watching to see what lessons they can learn from Indonesia’s efforts to tackle its plastic problem.

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Related topics:
Future of the EnvironmentCircular Economy
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