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Jakarta Post

A dish of microplastics

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, January 28, 2019   /   08:33 am
A dish of microplastics Too much plastic: A cashier (left) packs vegetables into a customer’s shopping bag in Denpasar, Bali. The resort island is one of the few regions that have adopted plastic waste reduction bylaws. (The Jakarta Post/Zul Trio Anggono)

Indonesia should be ashamed of its status as the world’s second-largest plastic waste producer after China. The government and all other stakeholders should do more to turn the situation around. 

While plastic waste has increasingly become a major global concern, Indonesia has been doing little to slow the production of disposable plastic that pollutes the land and the oceans, as our special report today confirms. The world community has given Indonesia that dirty sheen after studies confirmed the serious health and environmental threats from unmanaged plastic waste.

In 2016, a research study led by Jenna Jambeck from the University of Georgia found that Indonesia produces 3.2 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste every year, of which about 1.29 million metric tons ends up as marine debris. The latest study by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences discovered microplastic in salt and fish. Apparently, nonorganic materials that need centuries to decompose have found their way onto our plates. Asian neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and even China may also have contributed to that marine debris. 

We can only assume that the situation is worsening, given that no significant remedies have been attempted by the big-time suspects, individually or collectively. The United Nations Environment Program says only 9 percent of all plastic waste ever generated has been recycled. Some 12 percent has gone to incinerators and the bulk ends up in landfills, dumps or in the natural environment. The world body has warned that unless proper, better-orchestrated measures are taken, the seas would contain more plastic than fish by 2050. 

Indonesia still struggles with its draft guidelines to support the government’s effort to phase out single-use plastic in 10 years starting at its sources. It already missed its own deadline last year and has yet to come up with a new timeframe. In fact, Indonesia already has a law on waste management in place, but it was passed in 2008 when plastic pollution was not a popular concern. Besides, plastic is but one of numerous, equally dangerous pollutants such as oil and untreated industrial chemicals that are dumped into bodies of water.

Indonesia’s commitment to slash plastic waste by 70 percent in the coming eight years as promised by Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan during the 2017 UN Ocean Conference in New York is notable. As one of the conference vice presidents, Indonesia would have to answer questions about its progress meeting this pledge.

Drastic measures involving all stakeholders are needed for Indonesia to honor this big commitment. Industries — from food suppliers and convenience stores to plastic makers — must act to reduce the use of plastic. The government should offer incentives to recycling industries, phase out certain plastic products and conduct public awareness campaigns. 

Civil society initiatives encouraging restaurants, bars and coffeehouses deserve the support of the government and the public alike. Kudos should also go to progressive local administrations that have introduced bylaws to restrict single-use plastic without awaiting the central government’s guidelines, which are to materialize only God knows when.