The Jakarta Post
After years of persuasion from community groups, the government has finally taken the first step to reducing waste from plastic bags by sending circulars to leaders of several cities and modern retailers. The letter asks cities to try out a 'plastic tax' to encourage consumers to bring their own bags when shopping. The implementation started on Sunday to coincide with National Waste Awareness Day. The Jakarta Post's Corry Elyda and Agnes Anya have looked into the policy. Here is their report:
Hopes abound among communities with strong concerns about Indonesia's mounting plastic bag waste as the government has issued a circular that stipulates that modern retailers must not give plastic bags to customers for free.
They have seen enthusiasm from the general public and city administrations and if the tryouts in several cities are successful, it could eventually reduce plastic bag waste from modern retailers, which is estimated to be 9.8 billion bags a year or about 38 bags per person.
Another estimate by Greeneration Indonesia puts plastic bag usage from both modern and traditional retailers at 700 per person per year, or 178.5 billion bags.
Disappointment arrived faster than expected, however.
Director of Plastic Bag Diet (DKP), Tiza Mafira, said she regretted that the Environment and Forestry Ministry eventually bowed to pressure from the Association of Indonesian Retailers (Aprindo) and set the plastic tax at just Rp 200 (1.5 US cents), down from its initial Rp 500. 'The tax is too small. It will not be effective,' she said.
Last week, the ministry decided the minimum cost would be Rp 200 for a plastic bag following a meeting with Aprindo, the National Consumer Protection Agency (BPKN), and the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI).
Although each city can decide to charge over Rp 200, Tiza said cities would likely stick to the minimum tax.
The ministry aims to reduce plastic bag usage by 900,000 by the end of this year through the plastic tax program.
In the initial phase, the policy, which was inspired by petitions both online and offline signed by 70,000 people, was scheduled to be implemented in 23 cities, including Jakarta. However, claiming that they were unprepared, many local administrations backed off.
When nine cities remained, Makassar and Bali also decided to postpone implementation on Friday. As of the first day of implementation, only seven cities have stuck with the plan.
Those cities are: Jakarta, Tangerang, Bogor, Bandung, Banda Aceh, Balikpapan and Surabaya.
Many residents have hailed the policy, which they view as the beginning of seriously conserving the environment in Indonesia. However, instead of bringing their own shopping bags, many shoppers might still buy plastic bags, finding it difficult to remember to bring them and not minding paying Rp 200.
Housewife Sri Pratitis, 62, for example, said that she hailed the move as it would likely raise awareness among the public about the danger of plastic to the environment.
However, she was not well-organized enough to prepare shopping bags or reusable containers when she was about to buy groceries at the supermarket, she said. She will try to always carry shopping bags in her car, she said, but may still rely on plastic bags from the shops.
She added that Rp 200 for a plastic bag was still affordable and she was 'willing to pay regardless how many plastic bags [she needed]'.
Even for university student Hilda Mahaditya Rizky, Rp 200 per bag will not be enough incentive for bringing bags from home. Although she supports the plan, she said she would likely still use plastic bags from the shops as she tended to shop spontaneously.
'I often go to a shopping mall just to hang out with some friends but I eventually come home with some new shoes or clothes. At a moment like that, I usually do not bring along any shopping bags so I use plastic bags from the stores,' Hilda said.
Social and environment activist Adi Wibowo from LabTanya, said residents could easily reduce plastic bag consumption by managing their personal consumer behavior by preparing what they needed before shopping, instead of shopping spontaneously.
He expressed his concern about the low plastic bag tax, which he sees as ineffective in encouraging the public to reduce plastic bag consumption.
Separately, employee Rahmat Danianto, 28, said Rp 200 would not make the program successful.
He said for the program to become effective, a tax of between Rp 1,000 and Rp 5,000 would be better.
'I think people will still use plastic bags as they find them cheap. For instance, if they need 10 plastic bags, they only have to pay Rp 2,000. That's not a big deal,' Rahmat said.
Tiza of the DKP said 80 percent of respondents to the institution's survey supported the program and expressed their readiness to bring their own bags when shopping.
The survey also showed that the ideal price of plastic bags was between Rp 500 and Rp 2,000.
'However, it may vary in accordance with how much each city is willing to pay,' she said, adding that the respondents also hoped that the money from the selling of plastic bags would be used for corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes.
There is no clear regulation on where the money will go and no implementing city administration has yet issued a specific regulation on the new tax. The ministry has recommended each city issue their own regulation on the plastic bag tax.
Jakarta Sanitation Agency head Isnawa Adji said the administration would discuss the regulation more this week. Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat said on Sunday he wanted to set the tax at Rp 5,000 per bag.
Aprindo, which has volunteered to be involved in trials, rejected the ministry's idea of letting cities decide on details for themselves.
'We think it needs regional regulation as plastic bags' status is the same as any other item offered in the retail markets. The mechanism, therefore, should be left for the authorities of the markets,' Aprindo deputy chairman Tutum Rahanta said, adding that members of Aprindo would charge for plastic bags the price agreed on in the meeting with the ministry. 'We suggest the government lets retailers decide on the price.'
Moreover, he said, different prices in each region would only create friction as well as unhealthy business competition among retailers ' particularly those which were at the border of two regions with different prices.
Tutum suggested the government extend the tax to traditional retailers as well. He quoted Nielsen data from 2015, which showed the market share of modern retailers in Indonesia was only 26 percent, the remainder belonging to traditional retailers.
Authorities from modern retailers like Hypermart, Trans Carrefour and Alfamart expressed similar concerns, saying that the government should also encourage traditional retailers to conserve the environment through the plastic bag tax.