Jakarta. Indonesia's effort to manage its plastic waste has been hampered with a basic problem for years now: all of its garbage remains unsorted.
"I think that's our biggest challenge, how can we sort our waste," Rofi Alhanif, the assistant deputy for waste management under the ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment, said on Monday.
He spoke in a webinar hosted by CDM Smith, a global and privately owned engineering and construction firm.
Indonesia generates approximately 6.8 million tons of plastic waste every year, according to the Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP), a collaboration between the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment and the Global Plastic Action Partnership. About 80 percent of the waste originates from land, while the remaining 20 percent comes from coasts and oceans.
A 2019 report from World Bank estimated Indonesia generated 175,000 tons of waste, including about 14 percent, or 24,500 tons a day of plastics. That is equal to about 8.9 million tons of plastic waste a year. Such a large amount of unsorted waste would require a lot of resources for sorting and segregation before the trash can be processed or recycled.
"It takes effort to separate, whether the responsibility falls on government or the private sector," Rofi said.
Rofi said the typical stream of waste, from waste collection areas (households, public spaces, etc.), to waste processing sites, integrated waste management sites, and finally to the off-takers that will utilize the treated waste.
The government is beginning to invest towards a "circular economy" within waste management. Off-takers have started to reuse plastic waste by turning it into new products, such as the plastic tar road that processes plastics into mixed asphalt.
According to Alhanif, the circular economy will protect the environment while maintaining economic growth and creating up to 120,000 formal jobs. It will also increase the efficiency of raw materials, the number of recyclable and biodegradable products, the capacity of the recycling industry, amongst many others.
The government has been working on initiatives towards more efficient waste management. It issued government regulations on reducing and handling solid waste in 2017 and marine debris handling in 2018. Still, the biggest challenge and hindrance to efficiency is the upstream sorting stage.
"We have communicated with various plastic recycling associations. No plastic cannot be recycled. All of it can be reused. The problem is if the plastic waste has been mixed [with other waste]. High expenses go towards sorting it out until the plastic is completely separated so that it can be processed once again," Rofi said.
He suggests organizing trash from the source, individual households, though this must be done as a community-based effort.
Rofi mentioned a successful initiative in Klungkung, Bali, where the local government has implemented scheduled garbage collection policies.
For instance, on one particular day, only organic trash will be collected. On the following scheduled collection, non-organic waste will be collected. He said that if the garbage is unsorted, it won't be picked up.
"It's better to sort the trash from households, from the source, at the very least in two streams of segregation: organic and non-organic. It helps. I estimate that 50 percent of our waste problem is solved if we can sort our trash. The largest composition is indeed in the initial sorting," Rofi said.
Bernhard Schenk, an solid waste management expert from KfW, a German state-owned bank, agrees with this sentiment.
According to him, out of five solid waste management development phases, Indonesia is in-between phases two and three, encapsulating sorting and sanitary landfills. To reach the final phase, the country must be able to transform waste into resources.
"Whatever product is used by the population should not turn out as waste, but should be recycled, reutilized to have a process of resource-saving and turning whatever used product to produce new products," Schenk said. Before this can be achieved, however, proper sorting of solid waste at the source must first be tackled.