Indonesia sends back trash shipment to US

Another Southeast Asian country returns waste after plastic rubbish, used diapers found in scrap paper consignment
Indonesia sends back trash shipment to US

Indonesian customs officers from the local environment office examine one of 65 containers full of imported plastic rubbish at Batu Ampar port in Batam on June 15. (Photo by Andaru/AFP)

Indonesia has returned 100 tons of waste to the United States after a shipment of scrap paper was found to also include plastic, used diapers and rubber.

It follows similar moves in recent weeks by other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines.

An Environment Ministry official said the waste arrived in Indonesia’s second largest city Surabaya on June 14 mixed with paper that was to be recycled and was returned the next day.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said the dumping of trash in Indonesia from abroad would not be tolerated.

“The import of trash into this country is illegal,” she told reporters on June 17. “We won’t hesitate in returning such waste to the state of origin.” 

According to the Indonesian government, the amount of waste being dumped in Southeast Asia increased significantly after China stopped accepting waste from Western countries last year.

The environment minister said more than 60 containers containing plastic trash had also been discovered at a port in Batam in the Riau Islands, near Singapore.

“I have asked the trade minister to revise trade regulations so that this country will not be abused with the smuggling of illegal waste,” Nurbaya said.

Prigi Arisandi, executive director of Surabaya-based Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (Ecoton), said a lack of strict enforcement has encouraged this type of dumping.

He said countries of origin do not pick places randomly. “They choose developing countries that do not have strict regulations,” he told

Muharram Atha Rasyadi from Greenpeace Indonesia praised the government’s stance, saying a tough stance is needed to prevent Southeast Asia becoming the next dumping ground for major exporting countries.

“This is a first by the Indonesian government. We hope the government will also close the door on importing all kinds of waste,” Rasyadi said.

Father Peter C. Aman from the Franciscan Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation called on central government to keep tabs on local governments to stop them negotiating their own deals with waste-exporting countries. 

"It needs to be strict and continue to watch out for illegal waste imports and not let local governments conspire with waste-importing countries,” he said.

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