Danone-Aqua organizes a beach-cleaning event at Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara on Friday. (JG Photo/Nur Yasmin)

Danone-Aqua's Circular Economy to Turn Plastic Waste Into Business Opportunities in Labuan Bajo


JULY 20, 2019

Labuan Bajo. Tirta Investama or Danone-Aqua, Indonesia's largest bottled water company, is experimenting with a plastic waste management pilot project in Labuan Bajo, a growing tourist destination in East Nusa Tenggara.

The subsidiary of French food giant Danone is planning to implement a circular economy model in the town to recycle plastic bottles for its Aqua brand mineral water.

"Labuan Bajo is one of the government's '10 New Balis.' With increased tourism comes worse waste problems. The circular economy model should help us solve them. We've already got a hashtag for the project, #useplasticwisely," Karyanto Wibowo, Danone Indonesia's sustainable development director, said last week.

Danone-Aqua has hired a local sorting and cleaning unit in Labuan Bajo to ship pressed plastic waste to Veolia Indonesia, a recycling company in Pasuruan, East Java.

Veolia will recycle the bottles into new, re-recyclable plastic bottles that will find their way again to Labuan Bajo as the packaging for Aqua-branded bottled water.

"This is an innovative way to make new bottles out of recycled ones. The point is that plastic can be a valuable product, it does not have to be wasted. It could offer an added value," Karyanto said.

The old-but-new Aqua bottle can be recycled again. By 2025, Danone-Aqua's plastic bottles will be made of 50 percent recyclable materials to reduce its use of virgin plastics.

"Indonesia is the second-biggest marine polluter in the world. We are committed to helping the government reach its target of reducing plastic waste by 30 percent [as soon as possible], and then by 70 percent by 2025. We hope our Labuan Bajo initiative will be sustainable," Karyanto said.

Danone-Aqua has already shipped eight tons of pressed plastic bottles from Labuan Bajo to Veolia in Pasuruan. Danone-Aqua and the recycling company are building the biggest recycling factory in Indonesia set for completion in early 2020.

Eight tons of pressed plastic waste to be sent to recycling company in Pasuruan, East Java, after being bought by Danone-AQUA from Labuan Bajo recycling unit, at Labuan Bajo, West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara, on Friday. (JG Photo/Nur Yasmin)
Eight tons of pressed plastic waste in Danone-Aqua's warehouse in Labuan Bajo, ready to be shipped to a recycling company in Pasuruan, East Java. (JG Photo/Nur Yasmin)

West Manggarai District Head Agustinus Dulai said he hoped the recent hype on Labuan Bajo as a new priority tourist destination will help solve its substantial waste problem. 

"The central government had not paid much attention to us until the president's visit [two weeks ago]. We now hope to see more projects being finalized soon, including one of turning Labuan Bajo into a priority tourist destination," Agustinus said on Friday.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo visited Labuan Bajo two weeks earlier to mark the town as one of Indonesia's new premium tourist destinations.

Agustinus said this should give the tiny port town more impetus to reduce waste.

"Waste is our number one problem. If the town is not clean, tourists will not come. We hope we could get state budget assistance to improve our infrastructure," Agustinus said.

In the past two years, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has added a plastic chopping machine, a new building and a shipping vessel to the town's recycling unit. 

Suseno Soengkoyo, a special staff at the ministry, said the town's locals need to stop looking at plastic as a burden and start looking at it as an opportunity instead.

"We often think that plastic is our enemy. But it's actually one of the more groundbreaking inventions of humankind. We just need to keep its production under control. The world is looking at waste as a business opportunity. The circular economy management model is useful not only for the economy but also for the society and the environment," Suseno said on Friday.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 33 percent of waste in Labuan Bajo is non-organic and recyclable. The region produces almost 13 tons of waste every day.