The Jakarta Post
Efforts to reduce plastic waste, a material blamed for polluting the country and global oceans, have never received zealous support from either the government or public.
Only a few environmentally conscious people have launched their own movements to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced.
However, the discovery of 5.9 kilograms of plastic waste inside the stomach of a sperm whale washed ashore in Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi, in November, seems to have served as a wake-up call to the government and regional administrations to start a move against plastic, starting with single-use plastic bags that are freely given away at modern and traditional retailers and even restaurants.
Cities such as Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, Balikpapan in East Kalimantan and Badung in Bali have banned the use of plastic bags at retailers to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced.
With 2018 coming to an end, cities in Greater Jakarta are also joining the bandwagon.
The Jakarta administration is drafting a gubernatorial decree to ban and limit single-use plastic bags in the city, starting with traditional markets and retailers across the capital.
According to Jakarta Environment Agency head Isnawa Adji, the decree will set up a six-month transition period for markets managed by Pasar Jaya and retail stores to inform their customers that they would no longer provide single-use plastics bags, with the total ban to be implemented by the middle of 2019.
Based on data from the agency, the city produced around 7,200 tons of waste daily, with 1 percent of the waste made up of single-use plastic bags.
Meanwhile, according to city-owned PD Pasar Jaya, 153 traditional markets in the city housing 100,000 vendors produced 600 tons of waste daily, 30 to 40 percent of which was plastic waste.
Indonesia Plastic Bags Diet movement records show that Jakarta used up to 300 million sheets of single-use plastics in a year, adding to the 357,000 tons of plastic waste generated by the city each year.
The city actually has Bylaw No. 3/2013 on waste management, Article 129 of which stipulates a hefty fine of between Rp 5 million (US$343) and Rp 25 million to vendors who provide plastic bags. However, enforcement is rare, if not unheard of.
Back in 2016, Jakarta charged customers Rp 200 per plastic bag when shopping at modern retailers as stipulated in a decree by the Environment and Forestry Ministry that required 27 cities to do so.
However, despite a 55 percent nationwide reduction of plastic bag use during the three month trial period, then-governor Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama scrapped the policy following protests from retailers.
The satellite city of Bekasi also followed the path of cities banning single-use plastics, with the issuance of Bekasi Mayoral Regulation No. 61/2018 in October.
However, the regulation, expected to be implemented in January 2019, will likely serve as a cosmetic policy as it only encourages retailers to convert single-use plastic bags to biodegradable ones, without any sanction on those who violate the regulation.
Bekasi Environment Agency secretary Kustantinah said biodegradable bags were believed to be the solution to the piles of waste in landfills because of their shorter decomposition period compared to plastics.
While Jakarta and Bekasi are taking baby steps toward banning single-use plastics, the neighboring city of Bogor, West Java, has implemented the ban starting December this year.
The ban was enforced after a trial period following the issuance of Mayoral Decree No. 61/2018 in July to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags and encourage the use of reusable shopping bags.
Despite the urgency on banning plastic bags, the cities of Depok in West Java, as well as Tangerang, South Tangerang and Tangerang regency in Banten have yet to introduce a similar regulation on banning single use plastics.
The central government has also stepped in to reduce single-use plastics by drafting a government regulation on a single-use plastic bag excise before year-end, which is expected to be implemented in 2019.
The excise, which is expected to deter people from using single-use plastic bags nationwide, is expected to be imposed on single-use plastics with a thickness of less than 75 microns.
The government expects that Rp 500 billion out of the Rp 165.5 trillion overall excise revenue next year will come from plastics.
Meanwhile, businesses appear to be reluctant to join the war against plastic.
Indonesian Olefin, Aromatic and Plastic Industry Association said the main problem of plastic waste was its management, not its use, and slapping excises on plastics would not tackle the problem.
Association of Indonesian Retailers (Aprindo), responding to Jakarta’s plan to ban single-use plastics, said although retailers would have no choice but to follow the regulation, while citing reduced business costs, reducing the use of plastic bags would be better instead of banning them.
Aprindo head Roy Nicholas Mandey said 35,000 retailers were using biodegradable plastic bags, in accordance with Article 3 of Presidential Regulation No. 97/2017 on national policy and strategy to reduce domestic waste that stipulates reducing plastic use instead of banning it.
The plans to ban single-use plastic bags, although noble to reduce plastic waste, was largely aimed at customers instead of businesses producing and using large amounts of plastic in the first place, so its impact is still in question.
Time will tell how effective banning single-use plastic bags is before steps are made to reduce the use of plastic at its very source.
Raissa Raniah, an intern at The Jakarta Post contributed to this story
This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Dec. 26, 2018, with the title "Ban against single-use plastic bags, half-hearted effort?".