Stop Importing Waste

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THERE is no longer any reason for the government to allow the import of waste, including plastic, because the threat to human health is becoming more real. The latest reports of poisonous contamination of eggs in East Java should be a strong reason for the government to revoke the regulation that provides an opportunity for the illegal import of plastic waste from overseas.

    Research from a number of environmental agencies has provided horrifying data. Researchers found that the eggs of chickens allowed to roam in Tropodo village, Sidoarjo and Bangun village, Mojokerto, East Java were contaminated with 16 types of poison. Among these was dioxin, which triggers a number of diseases in people, and which is produced by burning plastic. It turns out that plastic is used in these two regions for industrial fuel, and the smoke poisons the ground on which these chickens find food.

    These findings correlate with the results of an Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (Scoton) investigation in July, which indicated that East Java has become a receiving area for smuggled plastic waste. This plastic waste mixed with paper is imported to be used as fuel by 12 paper mills in the region. The total is likely to rise with the increase in demand for plastic waste from industry, which reached 35 percent in East Java last year.

    Imports of plastic waste are allowed within limits. The environment and forestry ministry allows the import of plastic waste from overseas in the form of clean chips as long as it is not contaminated with dangerous or poisonous substances, it is sorted and not mixed with other waste, and it is processed to become an end product. However, in practice, imported plastic waste is not in the form of chips, is mixed with wet waste and is even suspected of containing harmful substances. This type of waste cannot be used by industry.

    This is an indication that the countries where this waste comes from, such as the United States, Australia and Germany, have turned Indonesia into a waste dump. This trend increased after China banned imports of waste two years ago, forcing developed countries to look for alternative destinations to dispose of industrial waste. This proposal was accepted by a small number of people in Indonesia who were prepared to accept this dangerous waste, of course in search of a profit.

    It is time the government revised or even revoked the regulations concerning the import of waste. The import of plastic mixed with waste paper is proof of the weakness of the oversight of Customs and other authorities at the ports. As long as there is an opportunity for imports, there will always be a threat that dangerous waste could contaminate public areas.

    The need for plastic waste for the industry could be met if the government was serious about processing domestic waste. Data from Sustainable Waste Indonesia in 2017 showed that Indonesia produces 6.5 million tons of waste per day. Of this, 14 percent or 910,000 tons, is plastic and 9 percent, or 585,000 tons, is paper. This far exceeds the demand of the paper industry, which is 6.4 million tons per year, or around 17,000 tons per day.

    However, the industry cannot use this local waste because most of it is in dumps that are not properly managed. Only 7 percent is recycled. If the government was serious about implementing a proper system of processing plastic paper and plastic waste, there would be no need to import waste – which also turns out to be poisonous.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine