Prigi Arisandi, center, executive director of Ecoton, and Nur Hidayati, right, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), participate in a public discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday. (JG Photo/Nur Yasmin)

Environmental Coalition Calls on Gov't to Ban All Waste Imports


JUNE 26, 2019

Jakarta. Zero Waste Alliance Indonesia has called on the government to enforce its ban on waste imports, especially plastic waste and scrap, as it has a disproportionally negative affect on underprivileged people in the country. 

Despite the ban, Indonesia imported about 283,000 metric tons of plastic waste last year – more than double the amount imported five years earlier, according to Statistics Indonesia and the United Nations International Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade).

"Principally, waste imports are prohibited in the 2008 and 2009 laws. However, there are complex definitions used to assess whether a commodity is waste or not. And if it is waste, whether it should be excluded from the import ban or not," Margaretha Quina, head of pollution control at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), said on Tuesday. 

There is evidence that Indonesian companies misuse their import licenses to ship in waste from abroad.

Ecoton, an environmental group within the Zero Waste Alliance, documented several paper producers in Gresik, East Java, that have been accepting imported plastic waste, mostly from the United States and Canada. The finding was published in a documentary titled "Take Back."

"Almost each of the companies we monitored misused their import licenses and contaminated the environment by shifting the problem to regular people," said Prigi Arisandi, executive director of Ecoton.

"We found two kinds of plastic waste and scrap imported by paper companies in Gresik. One is plastic mixed with paper, which cannot be recycled and which is used as fuel to produce tofu, while the other is plastic waste such as bottles, sachets, food packaging, body-care packaging and home products," he said. 

ICEL's Margaretha said the government must revoke these companies' licenses. 

"As weak as [the ban] is, [the imported waste] can be subject to the obligation [on the exporter] to reimport it, if it is contaminated with hazardous waste. The import permit can also be revoked if it was issued based on the submission of incorrect data," she said.

Yuyun Ismawati, senior advisor of Bali Focus, a nongovernmental organization advocating for a toxic-free environment, said most member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have taken steps to close their doors to waste imports, but Indonesia has yet to follow suit.

In July last year, the Malaysian government revoked the import licenses of 114 companies and set a target to ban all waste imports by 2021.

Thailand followed in its footsteps after plastic waste imports from the United States increased by 2,000 percent, or 91,500 tons, last year. Vietnam also no longer renews import licenses for waste, scrap plastic, paper and metal.

"The sad thing is that Indonesia has no firm attitude and seems to defend the industry without regulation and clear law enforcement," Yuyun said.

The Zero Waste Alliance has recommended that the government review its policies and regulations on the importation of waste, especially shredded plastic and paper.

"We could try by prohibiting plastic waste imports or at least impose a moratorium on it, optimize the existing legal framework, and redefine trash, waste and hazardous waste, to ease verification," Margaretha said.

She also called for the criminalization of waste imports as a last resort.

"Many national and regional programs related to plastic and ocean waste have been, or are being made, coordinated and followed by Indonesia, but their implementation is not clear in the national development program. The president must make sure his staff is working earnestly," said Nur Hidayati, ‎executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), which is also a member of the Zero Waste Alliance.