Indonesia: Calls grows for end to plastic bags in stores

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

Last week, Environment and Forestry Ministry spokesman Novrizal Tahar headed to a minimarket near his house in Kampung Utan, Ciputat, South Tangerang, to buy four large bottles of water.

As usual, he brought along his own shopping bag. However, as he paid for his water, the cashier advised him there was no longer any need to do so, as the minimarket had begun providing plastic bags free of charge again.

“Can you imagine? I was furious,and I reported it to the ministry’s waste management director, Sudirman,” Novrizal recounted.

He is among a growing number of consumers who are aware that reusing shopping bags is a key measure in the reduction of plastic and not merely a question of saving a few thousand rupiah.

Plastic bag waste from modern retailers in Indonesia is estimated to reach 9.8 billion bags a year, or about 38 bags per person. Worldwide, only China uses more plastic bags than Indonesia.

Another estimate, by Greeneration Indonesia, puts plastic bag usage from both modern and traditional retailers at 700 per person per year, or 178.5 billion bags. More than 12 million barrels of crude oil are needed to produce that amount of plastic bags.

Plastic shopping bags are so resilient, pervasive and toxic that the country has arrived at a tipping point; the entire ecosystem is off balance, with tens of thousands of turtles, whales, sea birds and other marine creatures dying each year after ingesting plastic material.

Earlier this year, the government introduced a requirement for modern retailers to charge customers for plastic bags, the largest concerted effort to date to reduce plastic waste. The policy applied initially only to 23 cities, before being expanded nationwide on June 1.

The public reacted positively to the policy, with an immediate 25 percent reduction in plastic bag use in the 23 cities, according to Environment and Forestry Ministry data.

“The steepest decrease was in Banjarmasin, with 80 percent, followed by Palembang, Surabaya and Bandung, each with 40 percent,” Sudirman said.

Banjarmasin’s especially sharp reduction was a result of the local authorities’ blanket ban on the sale of plastic bags by retailers and consumers and retailers are now demanding a similar ban nationwide.

“Consumers’ main suggestion for this policy is to totally ban sales of plastic bags at modern retailers, rather than doing things by halves,” Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) researcher Natalya Kurniawati told The Jakarta Post.

The YLKI, she said, was contacted by ever-growing numbers of consumers saying they would like to see all modern retailers stop handing out or selling plastic bags.

“Consumers are increasingly saying they want to change their habits. They’re asking why there is still no clear policy on this matter,” Natalya said, adding that the YLKI had also received a number of reports that some Jakarta retailers were handing out plastic bags free of charge, in contravention of the policy.

Some modern retailers have reportedly decided to provide free plastic bags again after the end of the plastic bag tax’s first trial period, which ran until May 31.

The government subsequently issued a circular to regional governments stipulating the continuation of the policy, but some retailers are apparently unaware of this.

Others, though, seem keen to answer growing demand for tough action on plastic bags.

“We would have no problem with a blanket ban on plastic bags [...] In countries like Japan and South Korea, all retailers are banned from handing out plastic bags,” said Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo) chairman Roy Mandey.

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