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Jakarta battles plastic waste as seas getting clogged

Government working with religious groups, NGOs to seek answers

Jakarta battles plastic waste as seas getting clogged

Members of Indonesia's armed forces help to clean up waste in Jakarta Bay. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

Konradus Epa, Jakarta
Indonesia

April 5, 2018

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Kodir is not the only fisherman who lives on a rubbish dump in Jakarta Bay, watching his children grow up at risk from toxic waste as pollution sprawls out of control along with the overuse of plastic in the capital.

Dozens of other families in Muara Angke, a fisherman's community in the northern part of the Indonesian capital, also know what it means to wake up next to a waste site filled with hundreds of tons of filthy waste, mostly plastic.

Everyday Kodir's family and those of other fishermen who live adjacent to the seafront have to smell the pungent garbage. But they say they are used to it and try to ignore the smell because they have no other option.

"I live here with my wife and children. I can't move to another place because I can make money here to cover our basic needs," Kodir told ucanews.com. Like many Indonesians, he goes by one name.

The 37 year old said that since February the Jakarta Bay area has been filled with waste brought by floods.

People in his community complained to the provincial administration for help and a trash-removal campaign got under way on March 17, he added.

Religious leaders have also been roped into the anti-waste drive but the threat to people's health remains a daunting challenge.

"I fear that my two kids will be affected," he said. "Some children in the area have respiratory problems and often get sick."

He said this is not the first time the bay has been overrun by waste.

"Now it's destroying the mangroves and making it harder to fish," he added.

Harbudi Sihombing, a volunteer helping with the waste-removal project, said in the past few days the teams have cleared about 80 tons of garbage from the bay area.

The clean up effort is expected to be finished sometime in mid-April. 

"Most of the waste comes in the form of plastic from Jakarta city. It washes down here along the Adem, Kamal and Kapuk rivers whenever there are floods," he told ucanews.com.

A backhoe is used to collect waste in Muara Angke, North Jakarta on March 21. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

 

Each year the amount of waste in Jakarta grows because people don't dispose of it carefully and awareness of environmental issues remains low, he said.

"In previous years, Muara Angke had little waste. But the situation has gotten worse this year because the population in Jakarta is growing and people are careless," Harbudi added,

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the capital's population climbed from 10 million in 2015 to 10.3 million in 2017 and is still growing week after week.

Responding to the increased level of waste, Jakarta Archdiocese issued a pastoral letter in 2016 urging Catholics to play their part by making simple contributions just as avoiding the use of plastic bags.

"By issuing that letter, the church has helped the government to overcome some of its waste problem," said Martha Wijaya from St. Theresa Church in Central Jakarta.

"My family doesn't use plastic bags anymore," she added.

Every year during Lent, communities in the archdiocese are asked to reflect on the impact of the waste they produce as it becomes more of a problem in the sprawling capital.

Other major cities including Bandung in West Java face similar problems.

Daden Ramadhan, a coordinator for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in Bandung, said the level of garbage keeps rising and overuse of plastic is one of the chief culprits.

"We urge people to reduce their use of plastic," he said, adding shoppers can contribute by bringing their own bags to supermarkets and reusing them.

The clean-up campaign in Jakarta Bay is expected to take weeks after floods washed trash down from the capital along connecting rivers. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

 

Plan to cut 2 million tons

The government has set an ambitious target of reducing waste by 1.9 million tons by 2019 but few critics see this as realistic.

Marine waste is an especially big challenge. According to data provided by the Jambeck Research Group at the University of Georgia in the United States in 2015, Indonesia was the second-worst culprit globally that year after China in terms of dumping trash into the sea.

It disposed of 187.2 million tons this way two years ago compared to China's 262.9 million tons, the records show.

"More than one million plastic bags are used every minute in Indonesia and only five percent can be recycled," Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the Minister of the Environment and Forestry, said last month.

The country has pledged to spend up to US$1 billion a year to lessen the rubbish clogging up its waters, its coordinating minister for maritime affairs said during a summit in Nusa Dua, Bali in March 2017.

It has committed to reduce the level of marine waste by 30 percent in the short term and 70 percent by 2025.

Nurbaya is now engaged in an anti-waste road show that will have spanned 26 cities by the time it wraps up in April.

The aim is to engage local governments, religious leaders and environmental activists so they can cooperate in scaling back the problem as part of a national strategy.

In addition to educating the public on the importance of keeping a lid on waste and introducing healthier habits regarding garbage disposal and recycling, she said the government is working with NGOs to seek new solutions.

Hanie Ismail, an environmentalist who represents the Zero Waste Community in Surabaya, East Java, acknowledged that in her city waste is on the rise but said local people are slowly pitching in to help.

However, she expressed concern that unless the public is taught to care more about the environment, the waste problem could escalate.

"Indonesia won't reach its national target because the people don't care about the impact of plastic waste," she said.

"We need to educate people that they have to be concerned about these issues," she said.

One promising sign is that local authorities in West Java plan to launch an incinerator-based trash-disposal site in Legok Nangka.

If it is successful they will build other sites using similar technology in Bogor, Cirebon, Indramayu and other parts of the province, they said.

Ramadhan said preventive measures would be a better, more productive and cheaper way of fixing the problem.

If the public were fully aware of the negative impact of waste and shown how even a few simple steps at home on a day-by-day basis can make a huge difference, "waste wouldn't be a big problem in the future," he said.

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