Indonesia has long been a country of troubled leadership. From the early European colonies to mid 19th Century political turbulence up until the past half-century or so, the country has struggled to maintain stable political leadership until independence was established in 1949 (Booth 2011). Independence, alongside the growth of tourism means the country has since undergone rapid economic and industrial growth, but at significant cost to the environment. Environmentalism has begun to grow accordingly, responding to the significant amount of plastic and other pollutants building up across the country.
Growing up in Australia, I have always had clean, safe tap water and have never had to worry about getting sick from it. Over 27 million Indonesians, however, don’t have that luxury; their tap water is contaminated with metal and chemical traces, and general water sanitation is poor (water.org 2017). This results in a dependency on plastic bottles just for drinking water, and combined with a booming tourism industry churning out straws, packaging, ponchos and other transient plastic items all year round, Indonesia has become the second largest plastic-wasting country, depositing over 200 000 tonnes of plastic into the ocean in 2016 (Lebreton, L. C. M. et al. 2017).
So then, how does a country with more plastic than safe water deal with these issues? The country recognises its problem, pledging to reduce ocean plastics by 70% by 2025 (Wright 2017), and researchers from the University of Technology Malaysia have concluded that solid waste plastic can be used as an alternative fuel in Indonesian power plants (Anshar, Ani, Kader 2014). However, the process is slow, as is the general way things go when multiple political forces must act on the same page, as it is even in Australia (although maybe not to the same extent).
It is perhaps then an issue the local Indonesian population can yet only do little about; local governments do not enforce any laws, and higher authorities do not yet take a rational approach regarding how to approach the issue. It’s awful to see a place of such rich natural history and culture become spoilt by plastics and tourism. Individuals rarely have the money or authority to engage in any form of environmentalist campaigning or other action, however if nothing else, awareness has grown and people are beginning to see the need for a change in their approaches to plastic and water management.
Booth, A 2011, ‘Splitting, splitting and splitting again: A brief history of the development of regional government in Indonesia since independence.’ Journal of the Humanities & Social Sciences of Southeast Asia & Oceania Vol. 167 Issue 1, p31-59.
Lebreton, L. C. M. et al. 2017, ‘River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans.’ Nature Communications, vol. 8, issue. 1, pp. 4-5.
Wright, T 2017, How can Indonesia win against plastic pollution?, The Conversation, viewed 5 December 2017 <https://theconversation.com/how-can-indonesia-win-against-plastic-pollution-80966>
Anshar, M., Ani, F N., Kader, A S. 2014, ‘The Potential Energy of Plastic Solid Waste as Alternative Fuel for Power Plants in Indonesia’, Applied Mechanics and Materials, Vol. 699, Issue 1, pp 595-600.