The Indonesian pavilion welcomes us with a traditional dance. Young girls dressed in colourful traditional clothes are clapping their hands rhythmically and doing elaborate choreographies. Two of them explained us that this is a traditional dance, mostly performed during special occasions especially in the west of Indonesia, the Aceh region.
The girls told us that it is important that people in their country become more conscious about climate change conditions. They added that Indonesians need to reduce their use of plastic. Many often use single-use plastics in the form of plastic bags, cups, straws, bottles and other utensils, making plastic a common part of daily life.
Indonesia has indeed a real problem with the use of plastic. Four rivers rank among the 20 most polluted in the world in terms of mismanaged plastic waste measured in metric tons. This makes the country the second-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution after China. Indonesia is estimated to emit around 200,000 tonnes of plastic from rivers and streams, mainly from Java and Sumatra.
This has a dangerous effect on the environment. Plastic debris can kill marine animals that get entangled and drown or starve after they ingest particles they cannot digest. Toxins leaching from plastic as it breaks down pose health risks for animals, while also entering the food chain and eventually ending up on our plates.
Community awareness about the hazards of poorly managed plastic waste is important. But I think that it’s unlikely to be sufficient to actually reduce dependency on single-use plastic.To win the battle against plastic pollution, the Indonesian central and regional governments need to stop pointing fingers at each other, avoiding responsibility, and make clear laws and procedures about reducing plastic use and waste.
Yet some initiative has been taken. For example, grassroot action in Bali seems to put effective pressure on the local government to act on this problem. As said, local and national government are slow to act effectively, if at all. Aired ambitions are of course high. The national government is creating a program to tackle land-based management of waste over the next years. There is an intention to invest up to US$1 billion to reduce plastic pollution, but what such a program may look like is yet to be confirmed. The future has to show what will become of all these ambitions.
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by Francesca Melis and Ben van Impelen