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Jakarta and Plastic Bag Waste ~ a nightmarish pairing!

Plastic bags (yes, those ubiquitous items we use in our daily lives) are widely known to be among the most destructive to the environment. I’m of course talking about the non-biodegradable kind.

Jakarta, capital of the world’s fourth most populous nation is grappling with plastic waste problem like never before. As the economy steams ahead – now for the first time recognized by the global finance and business communities as the “new bright star” of economic growth and resilience.

As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is blessed with abundant natural resources, a large domestic market (220 million potential consumers), a stable government, and one of the world’s best-performing Stock Markets, Indonesia has emerged out of the recent global recession faster than expected. It is a solid foundation that is expected to see Indonesia’s continued growth, for which the country is now identified as part of Chindonesia(China, India and Indonesia), Asia’s next growth triangle.

A scavenger collecting plastic bags at the Bantar Gebang dump in Bekasi. Every year, Indonesians generate about 5.4 million tons of plastic waste that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. (EPA Photo/Weda)

Naturally all the new consumers are bringing with them waste, a growing problem across the country’s urban areas. The most dire is Jakarta (greater metro area population: approx 20 million), among the world’s largest cities, which faces not only a waste management challenge, but also its nightmarish traffic, considered by many to be the world’s worst! Many foreign business visitors have mocked it for: “There is no traffic in Jakarta, because it’s just a giant parking lot! Everything is at a standstill”.

Jakarta’s waste problem as reported in Jakarta Globe, and the effort of a small group of environmentalists who see a solution:

The ubiquitous plastic bag has long been decried as an environmental hazard because of the centuries it takes to break down, but a waste watchdog says alternatives are available that are much more green friendly.

“Plastic requires hundreds of years to biodegrade, which makes biodegradable plastic a good choice to stem the use of plastic,” Sri Bebassari, chairwoman of the Indonesian Solid Waste Association (InSWA), said on Wednesday.

“[Biodegradable plastic] only needs two years to degrade, and it’s safe for the environment.”

Sri said recycled plastic bags were not a viable option for addressing the problem of plastic waste because of the lack of standards in Indonesia for the recycling industry.

“People have complained that the recycled bags have a bad odor. There are also concerns the bags are toxic because the recycling process isn’t clean,” she said.

That is why InSWA has turned its attention to a new technology that allows plastic bags to biodegrade in a relatively short time through oxidation.

Last year, the association awarded a Green Label to Oxium, an additive that speeds up the breakdown of plastics. The additive was developed by Tirta Marta, an Indonesian packaging manufacturer.

“We began developing this compound eight years ago, and started introducing it into the market last year,” Sugianto Tandio, president director of Tirta Marta, said on Wednesday.

“By adding 10 percent Oxium into a plastic bag, it can, through a process of heat and oxidation, degrade within 24 months.”

He said these “oxo-biodegradable bags” had since been adopted by major retailers such as Carrefour, Alfamart, Indomaret, Superindo and Hero.

“Almost 90 percent of their shopping bags now use Oxium, but we haven’t entered traditional markets yet because there are too many plastic producers there,” he said. He added that the company was also developing biodegradable plastic containers for food.

But Sugianto said that of the estimated three million tons of plastic bags currently in circulation around the country, only 35,000 tons contained Oxium.

“There’s still a long way to go, but with the participation of these large retailers, we’re making good progress,” he said.

One of Sugianto’s main concerns, though, is the increasing number of imitators falsely branding their regular bags with the Oxium logo.

“That’s why certification is very important, not just to set standards but also to ensure that producers don’t engage in greenwashing,” he said, referring to the practice of companies using deceptive marketing to promote their so-called green credentials.

“We should build on the 2008 Waste Management Law as a legal basis to set up a certification mechanism and prevent this greenwashing,” he said.

In 2008, Indonesians generated 5.4 million tons of plastic waste, far more than the 3.6 million tons of paper waste produced during the same period, according to the State Ministry for the Environment.

The ministry also says plastic use is increasing by between 10 percent and 13 percent a year.

A study in the United States has shown that a family of four typically goes through 1,460 plastic bags every year. A similar study by InSWA showed Indonesians generated on average 0.5 kilograms of waste a day, 13 percent of which was plastic.

“One hundred percent of people all over the world produce waste, but less than 1 percent really care about managing it or learning how to,” Sri said.

“In Indonesia, waste issues are still far from the public attention, including the aspects of managing, reducing, reusing and recycling. We don’t even have accurate data or research on waste.”

She said the 2008 Waste Management Law provided a sound legal basis for dealing with waste, but the government still needed to issue regulations to implement the law, which the Environment Ministry has pledged to do by the end of the year.

The planned regulations would also address producers’ responsibilities for dealing with their waste.

“From a legal aspect, we already have the law, so it’s just a matter of the government implementing it,” Sri said.

“However, there are four other aspects of waste management: which institutions will deal with it, where the funding will come from, the sociocultural impact and the technology. It must be made clear which institutions are responsible for managing the waste, because the weak link in addressing the issue has always been the lack of data or concise reports.”

Inspiration: Jakarta Globe

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