Jakarta. The Pacific Ocean is the world's most polluted ocean, a veritable "seafill" for marine debris flowing in from all over the globe.
While the global community is actively trying to address marine pollution through conventions and targets, local implementation is still running behind the ambitious goals.
Indonesia is second in a list of countries with the most-mismanaged plastic waste in the world.
The truth is, across Southeast Asia, marine waste management and reduction policies have come up short.
The executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN Escap), Armida Alisjahbana, told the Jakarta Globe that waste management – especially for plastic waste – is still a significant challenge in the region.
"Strengthening national capacities and infrastructure for waste management should be a priority in the region. It is critical for emerging economies to promote sustainable consumption as their economies develop," Armida said on Thursday.
Indonesia's National Policy and Strategy on Solid Waste Management and its National Action Plan on Marine Debris are promising signs. However, Armida said their implementation needs to be more consistent.
"We are beginning to see positive signs as several countries adopt policies to curb plastic waste, but implementation is slow. Governments must enforce policies like single-use plastic bags, as well as economic incentives and disincentives to reduce the demand for plastic products," she said.
"Twenty-three cities in Indonesia have implemented a levy on plastic bags [at less than 1 cent per bag] on customers at selected retailers. However, the challenge is to secure widespread effective implementation and compliance," she said.
Room for Improvement
Indonesia should employ more technology to manage waste effectively. The government could also partner up with a third-party or informal waste collector. The country also needs to have a second-life market for recycled plastic.
"[Waste management] requires context-specific regulatory, economic and social initiatives, including technologies for waste treatment, adequate recycling and disposal and a market for recycled plastics. Financing new technologies can also advance sustainable alternatives to plastic," Armida said.
Other than that, Indonesia also needs to develop a greener fisheries sector and adopt sustainable fishing methods.
The lack of data on the fishing industry for sustainable development goals record proves the issue is often overlooked.
"The understanding of fish stocks and fishery activities in the Asia Pacific, including Indonesia, remains quite fragmented and incomplete. This needs improvement as fisheries are important to local economies," Armida said.
She added that Indonesia should make a stronger commitment to stop relying on single-use plastic.
There are concerns consumption of single-use plastic has been increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic, which means the government needs to come up with the right response to manage the extra waste.
Future of Waste
Armida also suggested that countries should prepare for a bigger demand on transportation when the pandemic is over, which will increase pollution and carbon dioxide emittance.
"Past experience in similar crises suggests that transport demand and associated emissions tend to rebound and then rise to higher levels if not mitigated by dedicated policy measures," Armida said.
Meanwhile, if the region does not improve its waste management, global plastic waste in the ocean could triple by 2050.
"Overproduction and overconsumption of plastics is the carbon dioxide footprint linked to their lifecycle. This was calculated at 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO-e) in 2015 and expected to grow to 6.5 gigatons CO-e by 2050 under the current business-as-usual trajectory," she said.
Managing the ocean is challenging, and there are many obstacles to overcome, especially data availability, according to Armida.
She said one of the challenges in tracking a country's progress in protecting its ocean is the lack of oceanic data, which means that oceans are transboundary. Pollution can get swept from one country to another.
"Insufficient or missing data have resulted in large information gaps about ocean acidification, fishing and fisheries, economic benefits and so on," she said.
She applauded Indonesia's Centra Statistics Agency for providing in-depth data for the 2030 sustainable development goals' agenda.
"They use big data, supplementary indicators and also adapt to existing and new statistical models," Armida said.