Jakarta steps up battle against plastic waste with ban on single-use plastic bags

Reusable bags are offered to customers at The Food Hall grocery in Plaza Senayan in Central Jakarta. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN
Japanese ramen chain Sugakiya in Plaza Senayan in Central Jakarta does not provide its customers with plastic bags for takeaway food packaged in paper food boxes. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

JAKARTA - In the past few months, Indonesian housewife Vonny has been bringing a folded shopping bag everywhere she goes. She found it a bit troublesome at first, but it is no longer a burden.

"I'm getting used to it now... I think it's good," the 55-year-old told The Straits Times while shopping at a mall in Central Jakarta. "When I completely forget (to carry one), I will ask for a cardboard box."

Aware of the negative impact plastic bags have on the environment, Madam Vonny has also spread her new habit to her maids, providing them with reusable bags to shop in traditional markets.

Jakarta began its ban on single-use plastic bags at shopping centres, convenience stores and traditional markets on July 1 to reduce the city of 10 million's massive plastic waste.

A similar measure was earlier adopted by 33 cities and regions across the vast archipelago, including Bali province, Bogor in West Java and Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan.

Plastic waste last year accounted for 34 per cent of 7,702 tonnes of the city's daily waste sent to its major landfill, Bantar Gebang, in its satellite town Bekasi.

A 2018 joint study by Jakarta Environment Agency and Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement found that the city consumes between 240 million and 300 million plastic bags, or between 1,900 and 2,400 tonnes, a year.

Operators of the shopping centres, store owners and vendors failing to impose the ban will face fines ranging from five million rupiah (S$519) to 25 million rupiah to revocation of business permits.

Jakarta Environment Agency head Andono Warih said that the city aims to cut 1.75 million plastic bags, equal to seven tonnes, coming out of shopping centres, convenient stores and traditional markets each day.

"It is obligatory for traders not to provide single-use plastic bags. If they are consistent, consumers will have no choice and finally are forced to change their behaviour by bringing eco-friendly shopping bags," he said.

The implementation of the ban comes with varying degrees of ease and difficulties for big and small players.

A vendor at Palmerah market in West Jakarta packs vegetables in a plastic bag for her customer. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

Ms Desy, a worker at The Food Hall grocery in Plaza Senayan in Central Jakarta, said that buyers have come with their own shopping bags since the new arrangement was put in place.

When asked what to do when buyers do not have shopping bags, she said: "We sell shopping bags for 5,000 rupiah each at the cheapest. We also offer free cardboard (reused) boxes."

Japanese ramen chain Sugakiya, which operates at the mall's food court, does not provide plastic bags for takeaway food packaged in paper food boxes and requires customers to bring their own bags.

However, vendors at traditional markets still struggle to comply with the new rule.

Mr Mulyana, a fruit vendor at Palmerah Market in West Jakarta, still serves his customers with clear plastic bags although he is aware of the ban.

"Buyers should bring their own bags, but my customers never do it," he said.

Before the ban became effective, the 62-year-old, who has sold fruits such as guava and pineapple at the market since 1975, has been advising his customers to bring their own bags, but to no avail.

"It's really hard to make them change. What else can I do?" he said.

Mr Andono said that PD Pasar Jaya, which operates the majority of Jakarta's traditional markets, has committed to supporting the implementation of the ban on the single-use plastic bags.

Mr Arief Nasrudin, president director of PD Pasar Jaya, could not be reached for comment.

Despite challenges in its implementation, Mr Rahyang Nusantara, the national coordinator of the Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement, described the ban as "a progressive move". Jakarta is the second capital of South-east Asian countries that has adopted such a ban, after Bangkok.

"Jakarta is a benchmark for other cities across Indonesia. If Jakarta can do it, that will motivate other regions to follow suit," Mr Rahyang said.

He added that Jakarta's ban is part of wider efforts by Indonesia, the world's second marine polluter, in its battle against plastic waste.

"We are trying to reverse the narrative from polluting to handling the plastic pollution progressively."

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