Indonesia’s garbage problem, community solutions to reduce plastic waste, legislation, and initiatives on production and use of plastic, behavioural changes and campaign pressure supported by NGOs and all of us who take action.

On our way back to Wakatobi last Monday we read about the problem of plastic waste in Indonesia in general (The Jakarta Post) and new initiatives to deal with the problem (The Jakarta Post and International Bali Post). It is very encouraging that, firstly, the topic of plastic pollution is not only present online, discussed among divers and other ocean lovers or within NGO campaigns, but prominently featured in the (English) Indonesian press; and secondly, that there is a clear demand to get politicians into motion on the issue. Rules and regulations are needed to minimise the use and production of plastic as well as to oblige producers to design products in a way that the materials can be recycled after the product is used. Apart from supporting initiatives and campaigns, we can also avoid buying and using plastic products wherever possible because what’s here today, unfortunately, will be there tomorrow too.

Indonesia’s garbage problem

According to a study led by Jenna Jambeck (University of Georgia) in 2016 83% of Indonesia’s waste is mismanaged. This ends up in 3.22 million tons of mismanaged plastic garbage every year of which in return 1.29 million tons end up as marine debris, killing marine organisms and entering the marine food chain. Since this study, nothing really happened to tackle the plastic flood.

Living on a very remote island we note the change in the amount of plastic in the ocean throughout the year. The plastic wave hits a lot of small islands with westerly winds when the rainy season starts. Actually, a lot of the garbage, also in Indonesia, is collected in the first place and then brought to open landfills. However, when the rains come – and rainy season in this part means monsoon-like downpours – a lot of this rubbish is washed into the sea. The rain very conveniently “cleans” other parts of the cities and countryside as well. Currents and wind bring part of this plastic pollution also in sparsely populated areas like Wakatobi. Of course, on top there are still people (households, boats, corporations …) that see the sea as the private disposal area: Out of sight, out of mind.

Every day of the year, in the rainy season (December to February) even multiple times a day, gardeners clean the beaches here. As divers, we pick up trash every dive every day, but there are designated trash picking dives needed now to collect what is accumulating on the house reef and elsewhere. But end-of-pipe solutions, like cleaning up the plastic that’s washed onto our reefs, are not going to be enough. We need real change, tackling plastic before it actually turns into (marine) waste.

Community solutions combined with legislation to reduce plastic waste

Showing the announcement of Bali Buda in their newspaper/menu to not give any plastic bags anymore and to take back packaging for recycling

At the beginning of the year, Bali has implemented a ban on plastic bags. Unfortunately, so far this legislation only applies to super- and hypermarkets, though some eco-minded small shops are following the legislation already and offer even more to their customers (see picture). But it’s the first step. Also, the pattern of waste transportation changed. There is a waste management officer in each community. The idea is to strengthen an integrated waste management system and making it easier for the population to participate in the separation of garbage, hereby increasing recycling numbers and reducing the overall amount of rubbish going to landfills.

“The story of plastic” shows how this decentralized model works in some parts of Manila (The Philippines). “We believe in the power of the communities to solve their own waste problems if only given the right support to actually do it.” Communities are working towards zero waste by separating organic waste for composting as well as those materials which can be recycled. Communities are left with about 20-30% of non-reusable rubbish. And here it is getting interesting: By checking which companies are actually producing these products and packaging in the first place and asking them to eliminate them or come up with alternative designs. “The Story of Stuff Project” (NGO who produced the clip) supports the idea that products that can’t be managed by the communities properly, shouldn’t be created in the first place. This way the bottom-up initiative presented by „The Story of Stuff Project“ addresses the plastic problem at its actual root:

Also, Indonesia wants to work on both ends: legislation to reduce plastic in production as well as changing the use of plastic products from the users. The central government’s role is guidance and a series of programs (like early childhood education, cooperation with other ASEAN countries). Local administrations have to draft their own regulations. Fingers crossed!

Behavioural and production changes – Minimise plastic pollution

We can all help to reduce plastic rubbish. Most importantly, by putting pressure on corporations and supporting any administrative initiatives to reduce the production and use of plastic and to support reusing, recycling and upcycling. Holding companies responsible for the waste they are producing seems to be a valid angle and Greenpeace encourages people to take pictures of plastic sitting somewhere it doesn’t belong on our pretty planet and post these pictures to social media (tag brand and use hashtag #IsThisYours?). More info online: Is it yours? “That’s what we’re asking the brands whose plastic pollution is choking our planet. We’re gathering evidence that single-use plastic packaging is ending up where it shouldn’t be, and holding the corporate polluters accountable.”

One day a year dedicated to clean up is not going to cut it. Support campaigns and NGOs that are fighting fundamentally against the plastic pollution that is flooding our planet, like the ones mentioned in this article and/or on this list. And of course, let’s try to minimise our own plastic pollution already by buying and using less. After all the best plastic is the one that isn’t produced, the one that isn’t entering the ocean in the first place.

To be continued.

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