Indonesia’s $1bn war on plastic

The Citarum, east of Jakarta, is regarded as the most polluted river in the world. Source: Flickr

Indonesia will allocate up to US$1 billion a year to cut the amount of rubbish the archipelago dumps in its oceans, maritime minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan told the World Oceans Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali.

Pandjaitan said Indonesia was committed to reducing marine waste across its 17,000 islands by 70 per cent within eight years and said new industries would be developed using biodegradable materials, such as cassava and seaweed, to produce alternatives to plastic. Other measures could include a national tax on plastic bags and a public education campaign.

More than 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the world’s oceans each year and the World Bank estimated in 2015 that each of Indonesia’s 250 million inhabitants was responsible for almost 1kg of plastic waste each year, second only to China, according to a 2015 report in the journal Science.

Around 80 per cent of all ocean litter is plastic, costing an estimated US$8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems.

Indonesia, lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle, has the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity. Its incredibly rich coral reef ecosystems support crucial fisheries, provides food security for millions and draws numerous tourists.

At the Bali event, UN Environment launched its #Clean Seas campaign to eliminate marine waste, including microplastics (tiny exfoliating balls) in cosmetics and single-use plastic bags and coffee cups by 2022.

Last year 23 Indonesian cities trailed a tax on plastic bags, with both consumers and retailers resistant to the policy, according to environment minister Siti Nurbaya.

This has delayed a bill to impose a nationwide tax of not less than Rp200 (1.5 cent) per bag.

Indonesian manufacturers produce single-use shampoo packets and confectionery wrappers that are popular in poor communities. There is also a limited waste management infrastructure.

During rainy season, thousands of tonnes of rubbish discarded in rivers and waterways washes into the seas. Heavy machinery is used to clear Bali’s tourist beaches and communities regularly organise beach clearing exercises.

Nine other countries have joined Indonesia in signing up to the campaign, including Uruguay, which will impose a tax on single-use plastic bags, and Costa Rica, which promised better waste management and education.