Indonesia: One step back in effort to curb plastic waste

Stefani Ribka The Jakarta Post 4 Oct 16;

No charge: A minimarket attendant provides a plastic bag for a customer on Jl. Palmerah Selatan in Jakarta on Monday. Plastic bags are now free of charge.(JP/Donny Fernando)

In less than a year, the country has taken a step back in plastic waste management, as retailers have stopped charging for plastic shopping bags.

Kezia Grace Nauli, an 18-year-old university student, was puzzled when finding out that a plastic bag at the supermarket or other retail stores would no longer cost her.

“Rp 200 [15 US cents] per bag might seem like nothing, but I do think it has an impact on reducing plastic waste,” she said on Monday.

The decision to scrap the plastic bag charge was made by the Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo), effective since last Saturday.

Its move goes against the government’s call to reduce plastic waste, as the latter previously urged retailers to charge customers for plastic bags.

The idea to charge for plastic bags was put forward in the wake of the government’s goal to cut 1.9 million tons of waste from the 68 million tons of waste projected in 2019.

In 2015 alone, the country produced 64 million tons of waste, with plastic shopping bags accounting for 14 percent of the trash, according to data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The government’s call to reduce waste was followed up by a ministry circular requiring retailers to charge Rp 200 per plastic bag, during a trial period from Feb. 21 until May.

The circular’s policy was enforced in 23 cities. In June, the ministry announced the trial would continue until it issued a regulation in July and expanded the coverage to 514 cities and regencies.

However, no regulation has been issued and Aprindo claims the absence of one has given various parties, especially in the regions, the chance to intervene and complain to retailers over the fee.

“Regional administrations, civil societies and police officials have investigated some of our members, trying to determine the legal basis of the plastic bag charge and urging us to free the public from paying. The biggest public objection has been voiced in Palembang [South Sumatra province],” Aprindo chairman Roy N. Mandey told a press conference on Monday.

Aprindo also attributes the public’s objection to uneven implementation of the policy, with regional administrations in 10 cities setting the fee at Rp 1,500 to Rp 10,000 per bag.

The objection contradicts data from the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) and the ministry itself that shows public acceptance of the policy.

In March, a YLKI survey revealed 26.8 percent of customers accepted the policy and understood why they were being charged, while the ministry’s survey — from February to May — said 87.1 percent of customers brought their own bags when shopping.

Retailers say they will continue giving plastic bags for free until the ministry issues a regulation. “We support the government’s pay-for-plastic policy, but we just need a clear regulation. We don’t seek profit from it because we use the money to buy plastic again,” Roy said.

The ministry says it plans to issue a regulation in November.

Tuti H. Mintarsih, the ministry’s director general for dangerous toxic material and waste management, said her side had prepared a draft and shared its content with regional administrations.

Separately, the Olefin, Aromatic and Plastics Industry Association (Inaplas) has challenged the ministry’s waste data. Inaplas says total plastic bag production per year only reaches 1 million, instead of 9 million that makes up for 14 percent of total waste.

Inaplas business development chairman Budi Sadiman estimated that plastic bag production dropped 25 to 35 percent in the first half owing to the pay-for-plastic policy, among other factors.

“We agree with this pay-for-plastic program, but it would be better if the government reduced waste by fixing its waste management system first and foremost,” he said.

Pay for plastic bag campaign hits snag
The Jakarta Post 6 Oct 16;

The government’s environmental protection program has hit a serious setback after the country’s major retailers decided to stop charging for plastic bags on the grounds that they did not have any legal basis for continuing the so-called pay for plastic bag program.

The retailers’ decision to stop supporting the pay for plastic bag campaign has once again indicated the lack of commitment on the part of the government in reducing the surging use of plastics in Indonesia, now the world’s second-largest plastic waste producer after China.

We deeply regret the termination of the program because it occurred when people had begun to accept the initiative. Shoppers’ positive responses could be seen at many major retailers, especially in Jakarta. Many people had voluntarily begun to carry their own bags although the charge for plastic bags was relatively insignificant. The people’s response was quite encouraging as it indicated they were willing to do their part to help reduce plastic waste.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry, in cooperation with the Association of Indonesian Retailers (Aprindo), launched a trial program for the pay for plastic bag campaign in February. Under the five-month program, which formally ended in June, shoppers were required to pay Rp 200 (1.5 US cents) per bag. Almost all modern retailers in the country’s major cities took part in the program, although some of them, mostly outside Java, stopped the program due to people’s objections.

In its explanation, Aprindo said it decided to halt the program last week because the existing regulation issued by the Environment and Forestry Ministry was valid only until June, the end of the trial program. The association is waiting for a new ruling from the ministry to resume charging for plastic bags.

The ministry has not given any statement in relation to the termination of the plastic bag charge but it previously said it would issue a new regulation with some improvements if the program saw positive results.

We strongly recommend the ministry continue the program and issue a new regulation for its implementation with some modifications, especially related to the charge imposed. Rp 200 is certainly too low, but charging shoppers more than Rp 2,000 per bag, for example, could create controversy.

Besides setting a realistic charge, the new regulation should also clearly stipulate the types of retailers that have to participate in the program. It is important to explain to the public that the proceeds from plastic bag sales will be used for environmental protection efforts and will not go to the retailers’ coffers. This could prevent retailers being accused of taking advantage of the program.

According to a study published by the journal Science, Indonesia produced 3.2 million tons of plastic waste in 2010, second most after China. About 1.29 million tons of that ended up in the ocean, while some floated along the country’s polluted rivers.

In addition to the plastic bag charge, more programs are needed to curb the mounting plastic waste, such as promoting recycling. If realized, the government’s plan to impose excise duty on plastic packaging would be also helpful to curb the surge in plastic usage.

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