Recently, awareness about plastic waste and its impact has found a place in the hearts and minds of Indonesians and communities worldwide. The urban lifestyle is shifting gradually away from single-use plastics, and heading toward plastic reduction regulations, among other things.
Bulk stores are a new trend to change the delivery system of products. Instead of buying products in packaging wrapped by supermarkets or certain brands, there is a growing market now for conscious consumers who bring their own containers, sacks or empty jugs to bulk stores to buy washing liquids, or some grams of grains, nuts, vegetables, etc. based on their liking or need. Zero Waste Stores in Bali and Toko Organis in Bandung, West Java, are some examples of bulk stores.
Global plastic production has steadily increased to almost 350 million tons per year in 2017, growing three times faster than the global gross domestic product.
Worldwide, recyclable plastic trade value is US$5 billion per year. In 2018, Indonesia imported 320,500 tons of plastic scraps from 42 countries with a trade value of around $102,300. This figure was double the volume and value of the trade in 2017, as an impact of China’s ban.
Interestingly, Indonesia’s top trade partners in 2018 were the Marshall Islands and the United States. The trade volume imported from this small island state was double the amount imported from the US.
Domestically, Indonesia generates about 9.6 million tons of plastic waste annually, or about 15 percent of the total waste generation. In 2018, the plastic recycling rate was only 11 percent, or 1 million tons of domestic plastic waste. The rest leaked into waterways, soil and the ocean.
Apart from lifestyle market forces, global politics also influences the destiny and fate of plastic waste in the country
Responding to the crisis of our time, the recent 14th Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention adopted new amendments, including a decision to regulate the transboundary movement of plastic waste in a manner similar to hazardous waste.
For the Basel Convention parties, the export of mixed and commingled plastic waste, which previously flowed freely through borders just like regular goods, is now subject to permission from the recipient countries. In making such a decision, the recipient country has to consider whether it can manage the waste in an environmentally sound manner or not. If they have no capacity or adequate infrastructure, recipient countries may refuse the shipment.
This amendment means a lot for Indonesia, and for our collective effort to reduce plastic waste pollution. To comprehend this relationship, we need to understand the movement in the waste market after China banned the import of 24 items of post-consumer-products in 2017. From 1992 to 2017, China imported 106 million metric tons of plastic waste, or 45 percent of all plastic waste traded globally.
When, in 2017, China put a condition that it would only buy plastic scrap that was 99.5 percent pure, most developed countries needed a new market that was willing to take their plastic waste
China’s role was quickly replaced by Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Southeast Asian countries and other developing nations have great potential to be the next recipients of the plastic waste tsunami — which comprises almost 90 percent single-use plastics and currently not-recycled materials.
With the new Basel amendments in place, we will be better equipped to mitigate the long term impacts that are typically overlooked compared to the immediate cash involved. The new global control measures force countries to set higher standards for recycling and in managing plastic waste.
Before this amendment was adopted, some plastic scrap had made its way to Indonesia, either illegally, pseudo-legally, or even completely permitted. Despite the fact that Indonesia already had a ban on waste imports, the grey area between what constitutes “residue allowed for importation” versus “waste”, as set out vaguely in Trade Ministerial Regulation No. 31/2016, provides a loophole to import mixed recyclables or contaminated waste legally.
To meet their production capacities, metal and paper industries in Indonesia depend on imported scrap and were allowed to be self-regulated since 2009. This situation was used as an entry point for plastic waste to enter Indonesia illegally, primarily through paper production importers, under HS code 3915 and 4707.
The Basel Convention decision will give better clarity on “clean plastics wastes” versus “problematic plastic wastes” that require stricter standards, as well as the “environmentally sound management” required should we want to receive problematic plastics.
Indonesia will still need to focus on its monitoring and legal enforcement system to detect whether the permitted activities play tricks on their legal obligations. Lessons learned, as documented by green watchdogs Ecoton and the Nexus3 Foundation, have revealed some pseudo-legal modus, including a significantly higher plastic waste content among a supposedly permitted shipment of paper scrap imported from Australia.
While the permitted plastic content in any scrap exported from Australia is capped at 2 percent, findings suggested that plastic content can reach up to 30 percent, blended within paper scrap.
The Basel Convention’s new arrangements aim to protect vulnerable countries from a new wave of plastic trash from other countries. It is designed to help these countries not to falter in their struggle to manage plastic waste generation. In parallel, the fight to reduce and manage domestic plastic waste generation is left to us.
Despite being untouched by the Basel Convention, the Stockholm Convention parties decided that the signatories, among others, should significantly reduce single-use plastics. This measure goes hand-in-hand with the new standards for the transboundary plastic waste trade under the Basel Convention. Furthermore, it means inventing creative measures to prevent waste from appearing in the first place, i.e., by taxing plastic, issuing a ban or disincentives for single-use plastics, incentivising alternatives, etc.
The use of plastic is a part of our lifestyle that must be changed, through both political and market-driven mechanisms. Indonesia’s first task is to adjust our national policy to be consistent with the agreements made in the Basel and Stockholm conventions. The next task is to ensure effective implementation. These targets will be achieved if we, committed ordinary citizens, participate, and keep driving such changes.