People look at a representation of plastic pollution of rivers and oceans that affect the planet in the Ocean Pavilion on the sidelines of a UN climate change conference in Lima, Peru in this Dec. 2014 file photo. Activists have expressed doubts over the Indonesian government’s commitment to a plan to reduce maritime plastic waste. (Photo by Martin Bernetti/AFP)
Environmentalists and a church official in Indonesia have expressed doubts over a new government action plan to reduce swathes of plastic debris currently choking its seas and ruining fish stocks, saying it is probably doomed to fail.
Maritime Affairs minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan made a commitment to reduce marine plastic debris by 70 percent by the end of 2025 in a speech on the second day of the Feb. 22-24 World Ocean Summit in Bali.
A study published in the journal Science in February 2015 said Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, produced 3.2 million tons of plastic waste in 2010 and 1.29 million of that ended up in the ocean. The figures placed the country second only to China who contributes 8.8 million tons of waste, 27 percent of the global total.
According to the minister, Indonesia launched the clean-up plan on Feb. 21 and that the government would allocate $1 billion a year to support it.
However, the episcopal vicar of Jakarta Archdiocese, Jesuit Father Alexius Andang Listya Binawan, an environmental activist, expressed doubts over the plan, questioning the government's commitment to creating effective regulations and implementing them.
He said attempts to reduce plastic waste in 2016 was an example.
In February 2016, the government launched its "Indonesia Free Waste 2020" campaign. As part of the program, the government began a trial policy to reduce plastic waste by instructing retailers to charge customers 200 rupiah (less than 1 US cent) for each plastic bag used for purchases.
"The initiative was good, but ended up being only a goodwill [gesture]. There was no continuity, it was just a trial," Father Binawan told ucanews.com.
Regarding commitment, he suggested the government involve civil society to influence the populace.
Dwi Sawung, an official at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said the amount of plastic debris in the country's ocean "is worrying."
He said colleagues conducted research recently in Makassar, South Sulawesi province. "The result showed that marine plastic debris was broken into smaller pieces and eaten by fish. It means that fish now contain micro-plastics," he said.
He suggested that concrete action should be first taken on land. "If the government cannot resolve [landfill sites], I do not think they can deal with plastic debris in the sea," he said.
Arman Manila, acting secretary-general of the People's Coalition for Fisheries Justice, said many fishermen from Java and Sumatra islands had raised concerns over plastic debris in the sea.
"Plastic debris kills coral reefs and sea grass, where certain kinds of fish live," he said.
He added that many fishermen also reported significant decreases in their catch, from 10-15 baskets of fish in two-day fishing to only 5-7 baskets.