Sienna Curnow, Jakarta – Two thirds of Indonesia's territory is comprised of water – which continues to serve as a dumping ground for much of the population's waste. According to an estimate, approximately 20 percent of total plastic waste in Indonesia ends up in marine waters, a staggering amount which relies largely on activist contributions to clean up.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a surge in single-use plastics, further contributing to Indonesia's ever-growing waste outputs and consequent environmental destruction.
One of the largest sectors impacted by the pandemic has been the tourism industry. According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), foreign tourism arrivals to Indonesia between the January to July period in 2020 were down 64.6 percent from the same period the previous year. Juxtaposed against the disastrous economic problems this creates stands an opportunity. The Travel.com ranked Kuta Beach, Bali as the fourth most polluted beach in the world. With this pause in industry operations brings a chance to revitalize and refocus the tourism sector into keeping prime destinations clean and leaning into ecotourism.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's verbal commitments to combatting climate change in addition to creating the Environment and Forestry Ministry have given confidence to citizens that climate change is being prioritized. At the Paris climate agreement Jokowi announced his intention to reduce Indonesia's carbon emissions by 29 percent by 2030 and 41 percent with international cooperation. He declared to the House of Representatives in August 2020 that "carelessness and arbitrariness" would not be given in exchange for speed and accuracy.
However, the signing of the Job Creation Law on October 5, 2020 has weakened climate activist's hopes of full environmental action on the administration's behalf. The law is designed to ease businesses in their capacity to open up more opportunities for Indonesian workers.
This is done by loosening business regulations across 70 existing laws, cutting down bureaucracy and quickly boosting the economy. According to analyst Kevin Rourke in a Reformasi Weekly newsletter, the new law overrules the 2003 manpower law "to relax rigidities that have hampered investment in labor-intensive industries".
Though this ruling is effective in resolving much of the stringency of pre-existing laws and is projected to increase foreign investment, many have come to criticize the legislation. Thousands of protestors took to the streets upon the signing of the Job Creation Law, arguing that while removing the bureaucratic red tape would assist the private sector in creating more jobs faster, it would also mean that tape which was put up for a reason could be ignored and no longer enforced.
Greenpeace Indonesia came out in opposition to the bill when discussions were first being had. They pointed to the weakening of business regulation which would, under this law, allow private industries to more easily dodge environmental protection policies and actions.
Isnah Fatimah, Greenpeace's Deputy Director of ICEL for Program Development, criticized the law for being a violation of Indonesia's 1945 Constitution's sustainability principles.
"A country should not implement regulations that will discriminate against rights to a good and healthy environment, as well as environmental impact control and prevention," Isnah said.
Toxic waste handling and disposal rulings are weakened under the law, drawing concerns to the mounting marine debris. Though illegal toxic waste dumping is not explicitly illegal under this new law, prosecution can still take place against those proven to have been conducting poor waste management practices.
Environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace and Divers Clean Action have been pivotal to keeping climate change and marine waste reduction in the zeitgeist, even as Covid-19 rages. Through grassroots environmental organizations, events such as beach clean-ups and investment into virtual tourism have the potential to shape the way people view their impact on the environment.
Single-use plastic products, particularly seen in the food and beverage industry, have been marketed as being more hygienic. Founder and Executive Director of Divers Clean Action, Swietenia Puspa Lestari, recently shared with Jakarta Globe that this is not the case.
"Single-use is not the answer for this hygiene issue," Swietenia said. "The tourism sector can implement a proper and sustainable CHSE protocol [Clean, Hygiene, Safety and Environment] during and after the pandemic."
Swietenia recommends bringing your own cutlery and cleaning it between uses. Another piece of advice was using washable, reusable gloves. She said that after disposing of single-use gloves, the virus is still there on your trashcan which may be open, potentially infecting waste collectors or other materials coming into contact with the used gloves.
This is also applicable to using a washable fabric face mask, lowering the risks of transmission during the waste disposal process. Keeping the dialogue alive through social media promotion and sharing accurate and current information will be key to shifting attitudes in favour of waste reduction and reforming current waste disposal practices.
Making sustainability accessible is key to Switenia's work with Divers Clean Action. Though she shared that more alternative options need to be provided by producers and small enterprises to allow for low-income Indonesians to not be forced into purchasing unsustainable products.
For example, giving refillable options with low and standardised prices in every area, not only in big cities. She said the preservation of natural resources in Indonesia will increase tourism. Neglectful and unsustainable practices, she said, will see a reduction in guests to Indonesia.
"Do not wait for a trend setter [to start this] kind of eco-lifestyle in your area," Swietenia said. "It is okay to be considered weird and it is cool to start the lifestyle so your family and friends can understand too and follow your steps."