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July 31, 2019 1:45 am Published by

If you are old enough you will remember grocery stores loading all your purchases in big sturdy ugly kraft paper sacks. You couldn’t do much with those once you got home but they were easy and convenient to dispose of.

Then came the plastic shopping bag – and they keep coming, at the rate of a trillion a year. The planet is drowning in plastic, as nobody knows or cares how to get rid of these handy containers after a single use. The third world is particularly prone to careless disposal. Look at Bekasi. Look at ‘Happy River’ – honestly, that is the literal translation of ‘Kali Bahagia’.


This story in the normally rather frivolous ‘Coconuts Jakarta’ contains the video, produced by Kompas TV. Unbelievable – but the average kampung-dwelling Indonesian citizen has likely grown up seeing such filthy waterways since childhood and is not surprised at all.

What to do when average, patriotic, educated citizens still think nothing about hurling old mattresses, household waste and even sewage in the rivers? ‘Out of sight / out of mind’ indeed – but it ends up somewhere.

Ciliwung Garbage Collection Video

A trip to exciting Ancol offers many delights (if you survive the traffic and can endure the parking); have a quick look out over the Java Sea but don’t you dare stick a toe in the water or it might just rot and fall off in front of you.
How come Indonesia has not been able to deal with plastic? Are citizens so unaware of the threat to the environment and their livelihood?

Bali is going to hell. That is generally accepted among those who go for more than nooky, beer and sunshine. Surfers avoid it simply because of the plastic – which will be there five hundred years from now unless Mother Nature evolves a ‘purpose-built bacteria’ to start eating it up.  This is not as far-fetched as it may seem, as scientists have already created a hydrocarbon-eating micro-organism to deal with oil spills.

When they have to call out the military to deal with a plastic tsunami then the authorities wake up and take action. The Indonesian Government believes education, however belated, is a start, and a recent event is hopefully a step in the right direction: “The Ministry of Communication and Informatics’ Directorate of Economic and Maritime Information and Communication has just held a Joint Gymnastics event to launch the ‘One Million Tumbler: Plastic-Aware Generation’ movement. The event was held on Sunday, 28 July 2019, at Zones 6 and 7 of the Gelora Bung Karno (‘GBK’) Stadium, Jakarta.

“The launch was initiated jointly by the Ministry of Communication and Informatics’ General Secretary Rosarita Niken Widiastuti and the Ministry of Communication and Informatics’ Director of Economic and Maritime Information and Communication Septriana Tangkary. They were accompanied by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Director General of Garbage, Waste, and Toxic and Dangerous Materials Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs’ Deputy IV for Coordination of Maritime Human Resource, Science, Technology, and Culture Safri Burhanuddin, and Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia – “KPI”) Chairman Yuliandre Darwis.

“The launch was performed by jointly pressing a digital button on the giant screen, and by pressing down their palm prints and signing the commitment to maintain cleanliness and reduce the use of plastic-based products in daily life.

“In front of the 1,500 attendees in GBK, the speakers delivered a message on the worsening condition of the environment due to excessive amounts of plastic waste. In order to initiate change, we must first start by changing ourselves. We must start to reduce our daily dependence on plastics, for example using refillable tumblers to carry our drinking water instead of buying new bottled water every time. The One Million Tumbler movement is planned for dissemination throughout Indonesia, so that in the end, millions of people will use tumblers continuously.

“We are also running this movement in 10 other cities. We hope to inspire one million people to stop – or at least reduce – their use of single-use plastics for carrying their drinking water,” Rosarita declared.

There is finally a public awareness of the problem and of the damage it can do to public health, potable water and of course the tourism industry. Here Sumatran local inhabitants organize to gather garbage off the seashore in a community effort: two tons were scooped up in two hours!

Will Indonesia succeed? Not unless the public changes its habits and stops throwing drinking water bottles, plastic bags and other trash around randomly. Try a stunt like that in Singapore and you’ll earn a thousand-dollar fine.

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