Indonesia Goes All out to Stop Plastic Waste Problem

A necessary undertaking.

The government is supporting a public-private partnership to tackle the massive plastic waste problem by zeroing in on growing the circular economy.  

As part of the national effort to reduce and handle its plastic waste problem, the Indonesian government supported and collaborated with the industry to launch a Packaging Recovery Organization (PRO) last year, which also sought to promote the grow of circular economy in the country. Almost a year later, progress is made but there are still challenges, which if left unaddressed can have serious consequences as plastic waste will, sooner or later, find its way to rivers, waterways and eventually the ocean, thereby irreversibly damaging the marine ecosystem.

Besides the existing relevant work by ministries and agencies, the government realizes the importance of a joint effort with the private sector to tackle the massive plastic problem. And in August 2020, the authority launched the PRO, in collaboration with six consumer goods companies (Coca-Cola Indonesia, Danone Indonesia, Indofood Sukses Makmur, Nestlé Indonesia, Tetra Pak Indonesia, and Unilever Indonesia) who are also the founding members of Packaging and Recycling Association for Indonesia Sustainable Environment, or PRAISE.  

The first step is the hardest

According to PRAISE chairman Karyanto Wibowo, as the problem is so massive and in order to effectively support the government’s target to reduce plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025, PRO adopts a divide and conquer method and executes the plans in stages, with each stage focusing on different aspects.

In the first stage, PRO focuses on increasing the collection of some of the most widely used wastes, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and used beverage carton (UBC). Wibowo said even though it is relatively easier to collect these wastes as partner networks for collection have already been established, there is still room to do more.

“For the first stage, our initial targets are Bali and East Java, and our study shows that the collection rate for PET in those areas is currently at 55 percent, and we want to increase it to 60 percent within a year. To achieve that, the volume we have to collect is 3,200 tons a year – only in the two provinces,” Wibowo explained to Maritime Fairtrade, adding that similar planning and action for HDPE and UBC will start this year. 

Finding trusted partners is difficult

As PRO works with outside parties on their collection effort, Wibowo added that it is a challenge to find capable and trustworthy partners that can meet a set of specific requirements. For example, PRO requires partners to collect materials from areas in which the collection rate is still relatively low, historically the more difficult places to instill the concept of recycling and environmental protection. 

As for the second stage, PRO focuses on wastes that are less-widely used, whose recycling technology still requires further development. An example for these wastes is multi-layers which consists of a composite of plastics, paper and aluminum.

“What we do (in this stage) is to develop the infrastructure necessary to be able to collect more of this category of waste.  For example, we work with TPS 3R (Indonesia’s reduce, reuse, recycle system) and waste banks,” Wibowo said. As a pilot project, PRO has been working with a TPS 3R in Bali, and it will soon “replicate” the same type of collaboration with more local waste management services.

Lastly, PRO is engaging in raising environmental awareness through education and campaign and to develop more sustainable packaging through research.  One of the research projects PRO is involved in is the collaboration with the Indonesian Packaging Federation to establish a design guideline of recyclable materials for use by product manufacturers.

Coming to full circle

While the concept of circular economy offers many benefits for the environment and has been around in Indonesia for some times, Wibowo admitted that there are certain areas like the lack of collection points, to improve on if they want to attract and convince more people to be onboard.

“The opportunity for circular economy in Indonesia is still massive, (even if) it’s not a new thing and has been established for years. However, some aspects need to be improved to make the ecosystem grow even bigger,” Wibowo said.

One area for improvement is the underdeveloped collection infrastructure and the other is the need for stronger governmental policy and regulation to support recycling.

“The regulation on good manufacturing practices, for example, is still being formulated while in fact, such regulation is a crucial reference point for the industry,” he said.  Finally, but equally important is for the authority to set up an incentive policy to encourage more businesses to adopt recycling.

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