The containers were supposed to contain scrap paper but were stuffed with bottles, plastic waste and used nappies, said environment ministry spokesman Sayid Muhadhar.
“This is not appropriate and we don’t want to be a dumping ground,” Muhadhar told the media.
The five containers owned by a Canadian company were shipped from Seattle to Indonesia’s second biggest city, Surabaya in March, Muhadhar said.
The official said Indonesia other containers in Jakarta and Batam were being examined in the hunt for used nappies, which have been particularly irksome to Asean’s governments in their quest to make the west deal with its own trash.
Last year, Vietnam banned new licences for the import of waste after a huge buildup of illegal shipments lined its ports.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the government would track down the owners of the containers at its ports and launch criminal investigations into any illegal imports or violations of environmental law.
Malaysia in May said it would ship back hundreds of tonnes of plastic waste.
The Philippines has ordered 69 sea containers to be shipped back to Canada, sparking a diplomatic row although the original waste contract had nothing to do with the Canadian government.
At least 103 containers of Canadian trash, including plastic bottles and bags, newspapers and adult nappies, were shipped to the Philippines from 2013 to 2014. Most of the containers remained stranded at docks, sparking protests from environmentalists and nationalists.
For years China received the bulk of waste plastic from around the world but last year said other countries would have to look elsewhere when disposing of single-use plastic and other consumer junk.
Huge quantities of rubbish have since been redirected to Malaysia, Indonesia and, to a lesser degree, the Philippines. The region injects huge quantities of plastic waste into the world’s oceans, partly because of the west’s inability to recycle its own single-use produce.
The Thai government estimates that the kingdom consumes 45 billion plastic bags, 6.8 billion foam food containers and 9.8 billion plastic cups each year.
Thailand started banning foreign waste last year when it refused to take 432 types of electronic refuse from western countries.
Thailand’s ban on e-waste came after multiple raids last month on factories which were accused of illegally importing electronic waste. Bangkok has also said it will ban imports of plastic waste by next year.
Asean generates too much of its own plastic waste. Picture credit: Asean Economist