Indonesia is the world’s second largest marine plastic polluter, after China, producing up to 1.29 million metric tons of plastic garbage that enters the ocean each year. At the same time, Indonesia’s “blue economy” — ocean-dependent industries such as fisheries, tourism and shipping — contributes approximately 20 percent to the country’s gross domestic product annually. So Indonesia has a strong economic incentive to conserve and protect its marine ecosystem.

At the 2017 World Ocean Summit, held on 22-24 February in Bali, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, announced that Indonesia would achieve a 70 percent reduction in marine litter by 2025. Indonesia pledged up to USD $1 billion a year to fund the initiative, and emphasized the importance of aligning its economic growth with environmental conservation and sustainable marine investment.

“Education is important as without it, [the] problems of oceans will not be recognized […] let alone be solved. To understand about the environment, people must know what is [the] environment. This is to prevent more damage. On ocean[s], we will be focusing on infrastructure and of course, tourism,” said Pandjaitan.

To tackle the production aspect of the problem, Pandjaitan proposed developing new industries to produce plastic alternatives using biodegradable materials, such as cassava and seaweed. In communities where small-scale, single-use products are common due to cash flow pressures, legislation encouraging the use of biodegradable packaging could have a huge impact on reducing plastic waste.

Other measures currently being considered as part of Indonesia’s national action plan to reduce marine litter include:

  • Targeting behavioral change through educational workshops and awareness activities that highlight the importance of waste management, with a focus on plastic waste
  • An end-of-pipe approach that involves installing nets at river mouths to trap and prevent waste flowing from rivers into the ocean
  • Technical guidance to collect and process plastic waste into materials of economic value
  • A nationwide tax on plastic bags

Other recent initiatives include partnerships with the United States embassy to promote sustainable waste management practices among hotel associations in Bali. The US ambassador to Indonesia under the Obama administration, Joseph Donovan, noted that waste management is one of the priority cooperation areas between the US and Indonesia.

Indonesia’s efforts are not limited to government policies and budgets. Ordinary citizens are also getting involved. As a result of cooperation between local government and community organizations, the largest beach cleanup in Indonesia was recently organized, involving 12,000 people at 55 locations in Bali. They collected over 4 tons of trash.

Indonesia Marine Litter

As the Indonesian government continues to develop its national action plan to reduce marine litter, it will probably need to start embracing a circular economy perspective. This involves identifying the stages of a product’s life cycle and developing a range of interventions across all stages of production, consumption and disposal. A report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy maps out a toolkit of instruments to address marine litter across the circular economy stages, noting that the mix of instruments used should be selected with consideration for the country’s institutional and regulatory context. This approach could certainly be adapted for Indonesia.

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Source: Plastics Marine Litter and the Circular Economy (Institute for European Environmental Policy, 2016).

Reaching Indonesia’s ambitious goal will require cooperation across all sectors: consistent local beach cleanups, effective public awareness and education programs, comprehensive waste management infrastructure, as well as pressure on the industry for alternatives to plastic packaging. Nevertheless, Indonesia’s pledge signals a strong commitment that will set the precedent for other countries in the Coral Triangle to take urgent action in tackling marine litter. The question is whether these actions will be enough, as the hazards of plastics are already working their way up the marine food chain — and making their way onto our dinner plates.