Policy loopholes turn Indonesia into dumping site: Environmentalists

Waste imports to Indonesia soared from 10,000 tonnes per month in late 2017 to 35,000 tonnes per month in late 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Environmentalists have called on the Trade Ministry to immediately revise its 2016 regulation on waste imports, saying it contains several loopholes that have turned Indonesia into a dump site for developed countries.

The activists argued that even though developed nations, excluding the United States, had recently agreed to restrict global waste trade, Indonesia still needed to tighten its policies to prevent plastic waste smuggling.

A Greenpeace report issued in April shows that there has been an increase in the shipment of plastic waste from developed countries to developing nations, including Indonesia, since China banned waste imports. The Chinese ban on imports of 24 types of waste material went into effect in February 2018.

Waste imports to Indonesia soared from 10,000 tonnes per month in late 2017 to 35,000 tonnes per month in late 2018.

According to Greenpeace data, the top plastic waste exporter to Indonesia is Britain with 67,807 tonnes between January and November 2018, followed by Germany with 59,668 tonnes and Australia with 42,130 tonnes. Germany recorded a steep increase after exporting only 408 tonnes in the corresponding period in the preceding year.

Environmental group Bali Fokus claimed that the 2016 Trade Ministry regulation on non-hazardous and toxic waste imports made it possible for certain parties to smuggle "unneeded" waste into the country.

The regulation allows the import of, among other materials, plastic, metal and paper to support local industries, but it requires plastic importers to obtain approval from the Environment and Forestry Ministry only.

It classifies plastic as Category B waste that should undergo inspection by independent inspectors before being imported and by customs officials upon arrival in Indonesian ports.

"Metal and paper waste importers are not required to acquire such a document," Bali Fokus co-founder Yuyun Ismawati said.

The policy was problematic, she argued, since scrap metal and waste paper falls into Category A, which does not require inspections before and during import.

"This loophole has been used (by several companies) to import hazardous plastic waste, with exporters reportedly slipping non-recyclable plastic waste into the imported package," she said.

According to a field observation conducted by Bali Fokus and East Java-based environmental group Ecoton, 25 to 40 per cent of imported waste in Greater Jakarta and East Java is mismanaged - being dumped in open fields or burned rather than being recycled.

Evidence of this could be found in Bangun village in Mojokerto, East Java, where local scavengers have found plastic packaging from Australia and Britain, among other countries. They also found ripped banknotes in various currencies, such as the US dollar, the British pound and the euro.

The villagers reportedly get the waste from a paper recycling company in the neighboring regency of Pasuruan. A truckload of waste costs 500,000 rupiah (S$47.50).

The Environment and Forestry Ministry concurred with the environmentalists, saying there was a need to tighten the rules on waste imports.

According to the Trade Ministry regulation, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has the authority to issue recommendations for industries that meet the requirements for importing non-hazardous waste.

"We want to tighten the policy. We ask these industries to only import clean plastic rubbish that is designated to be immediately recycled rather than sold to other parties," said Environment and Forestry Ministry waste management director general Rosa Vivien Ratnawati.

The Trade Ministry's international trade director general, Mr Oke Nurwan, did not respond to The Jakarta Post's request for comment on the ministerial regulation revision.

Ms Yuyun said the government needed to ensure that importers had to obtain a recommendation from the Environment and Forestry Ministry before importing any kind of nonhazardous waste.

"Custom officials should also conduct spot checks at ports on containers known to be carrying such types of waste to Indonesia. This way, officials can find out whether such containers carry unneeded waste," she said.

Last Friday, the United Nations agreed to amend the Basel Convention, an international treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste between countries. The amendment includes plastic in the treaty, requiring exporters to "obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated and mixed plastics waste that is difficult or even impossible to recycle".

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