Course:GEOG352/2019/Coastal Plastic Pollution in Jakarta, Indonesia

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Ecological urbanism explores the dynamic of humans living in and among nature, emphasizing the need for a balanced and equitable relationship that requires adaptation as opposed to domination. In the context of urbanisation in the global south, this theme is crucial to understanding and promoting the development of sustainable cities. Global southern/eastern cities face particular challenges of accommodating for mass economic development and urban population growth that subsequently exacerbates the environmental effects of increasing consumerism under capitalist economies. The role of ecological urbanism is crucial to reduce plastic pollution, the effects of which are disproportionately felt in the global south. The city of Jakarta, Indonesia provides a clear example of the need for an ecological paradigm shift towards ecological urbanism with a human-environment dynamic encouraging adaptation and sustainability. Jakarta's growing urban population, heavy dependence on plastics, and improper waste management facilities have collectively contributed to significant socio-environmental degradation. According to Thomas Wright, “Indonesia [is] the second-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution after China”, thus making Jakarta a significant site for the analysis of ecological urbanism, modernity, and sustainability[1]. The pressing significance of this environmental crisis is evidenced by Jakarta’s reliance on the marine environment. Plastic pollution significantly contributes to the degradation of marine environments and therefore not only impacts the physical environment, but also impacts tourism, fishing industries, and subsistence farming that many coastal regions depend on. Subsequently, numerous socio-environmental factors are expected to be affected by activities that strive further from the integration of  humanity in the natural environment. This case study will analyze Jakarta’s plastic waste crisis that segregates society from ecological urbanism, ultimately perpetuating the global plastic epidemic.

Sunset in the old harbour of Jakarta created by Daniel Berthold. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Plastic pollution is a threat to ecological urbanism and sustainability. Overconsumption and mismanagement of plastics fails to consider the massive impact on nature, specifically on the marine ecosystem. Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is the most populous city in the country. It covers 514 square kilometres, and sits on the coast of a shallow bay, with an average depth of 15 metres. The bay is exposed to high levels of pollution transported from the Jakarta Metropolitan Area via 13 connecting rivers. In addition to metropolitan waste, beach litter is one of the primary sources of plastic pollution posing a threat to both the local marine environment, and economically-important tourist activities. Products such as slowly-degradable plastics, polythene, and microplastics eventually collect as debris in aquatic environments and the island strand lines. Indonesia's largest landfill, Bantar Gebang, is located in Jakarta and the lack of facilities lead to most waste being incinerated or ‘disposed’ into rivers[2]. Massive quantities of plastic waste circulate Jakarta’s coastline due to a lack of governmental regulation and funding for proper recycling and management of plastic waste. The city is found to be the source of most of the oceanic litter in the Thousand Islands, which are adjacent to Jakarta[3]. This showcases a visible and easy cumulative index of pollution.

This is a local issue since it impacts the urban context; however, the phenomenon of plastic pollution in the oceans is a global issue. Oceans are connected and plastics move from coast to coast via marine currents. Global plastic production has been continuously increasing year after year, and in 2015 it reached 322 millions tones and generated USD$750 billion in revenue for plastic manufacturers; today, the international community tends to incline towards voluntary measures, rather than opting for binding treaties[4]. The plastic pollution problem is global, expensive to combat, and will continue to grow in the years to come, as plastic has been made an indispensable material within our global economy. Given the international community’s inclination towards voluntary measures, one wonders if any treaty targeting environmental harmful behaviour (e.g. waste dumping) could successfully help address the large amount of land-based sources of pollution which include single-use plastic items .

When plastic items are not disposed of properly they can end up in rivers beds; once there, they can be transported to beach shores or international waters where they become a global environmental, health, and economic issue. The economic cost can be high for regions relying on tourism and fishing. Two years ago, tourism was identified as one of the most important parts of the Indonesian economy, as it offers the cheapest and easiest employment. It contributes highly to the nation’s GDP and foreign exchange according to the Minister of Tourism Arief Yahya[5]. The Thousand Islands are an archipelago located north of Jakarta, and were named one of the top 10 New Priority Destinations aimed at strengthening tourism is Indonesia. Having plastic stuck in the shores and in the sea near the beach can damage the aesthetics for tourists, and affect their likelihood to return or give a good review of resort areas. This would have negative implications for Jakarta, as the city and surrounding islands contribute to up to 41% of Indonesia's Tourism Industry (World Travel and Tourism Council)[6]. A map provided in the Stopping Global Plastic Pollution: The Case for International Convention shows Indonesia as having thousands of tonnes of plastic waste production and over fifty-percent of the waste being mismanaged.[7]

Case Study

Economically, Jakarta seems to be well on its way to becoming a centre of growth and modernity[8]. Yet, its development has by no means led to a sustainable city as seen by the persistence of serious environmental, infrastructural, and social problems. One of the main issues is the lack of coherence between the priorities of policy makers and their actions; there has been a decrease in public spending to be invested in economic activities including tourism. Jakarta is the second most touristic city in Indonesia after Bali and is a growing metropolis, making it a major entry point and business centre.

Marine Life and Microplastics

Marine Plastic Pollution - weight. Author: Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L.C., Carson, H.S., Thiel, M., Moore, C.J., Borerro, J.C., Galgani, F., Ryan, P.G. and Reisser, J. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Plastic pollution has damaged the local ecosystems and marine life. Microplastics are becoming an increasing issue not only to marine life, but has been found to potentially affect human health. Microplastics are defined as any plastic smaller than 5 millimetres in size, and have been found in a variety of places, including ground soil, out flowing water systems, and bottled water[9]. Fish and invertebrates in the ocean are likely to consume microplastics due to its resemblance, in both colour and size, to its prey. Once microplastics are ingested, they can cause internal blockages and toxic poisoning. Furthermore, marine species may get entangled, which can lead to drowning, suffocation, and/or starvation as the macroplastics can interfere with their feeding[10]. Plastic takes hundreds of years to completely biodegrade, and its buoyant properties give it a large dispersal potential. There are more than two hundred species of marine organisms worldwide that have been affected by plastic debris[11]. This has negative impacts for humans too, as microplastics build up in marine life food chains, larger fish therefore contain higher percentages of microplastics in their systems. These larger fish are more likely to be sold as food for human consumption at markets by fishermen[12]. It has been found that individuals who regularly consume seafood are likely to ingest up to 11,000 microplastics a year[13].  In a study conducted in five parts of Jakarta, it was found that that up to 76.2% of tap water contains microplastics[14]. Despite the fact that residents of Jakarta do not drink tap water, it is still an alarmingly high percentage found.

A report referred stated that 99 transects were studied on the 23 islands visited at the North of Jakarta’s coast counted for 33,903 items of strand-line litter[15]. There were two studies done ten years apart. Between 1985 and 1995, the total shoreline litter had increased by about two-fold. The evidence points to large proportions of the litter as coming from the nearby Java coast. The source of much of this is attributed to Jakarta, through output from the rivers. Although this case study was conducted over 20 years ago, it gives us insight into Indonesia’s increasing plastic pollution problem and that it has not stopped increasing.

Role of Waste Pickers and Waste Banks

The issue of poor garbage disposal in a developing south-east Asian country is not isolated to Indonesia. The top 5 countries that contribute to ocean degradation are all developing nations in south-east Asia[16]. Jakarta generated up to 7,147.36 tons per day in 2014. The current formal system is run by the Jakarta Cleansing Agency, a government agency. This facility is prepared with 971 trucks, 958 temporary storage areas, and 383 waste banks. Jakarta’s governmental waste collection services do not include sorting of materials. There are three levels of informal waste pickers. Firstly the scavengers, who mainly collect waste that is seen as valuable, who sell it to the next level, intermediates, who sort and clean this waste. Intermediates then sell this cleaned waste to the final level known as dealers or grinders. Here, they process the waste to prepare them to be converted into raw materials. Finally, the waste is sold to recycling facilities. Each stage benefits from the profits, and together organize up to 60% of Jakarta's recycling. These waste pickers collect waste from beaches, sides of the road and landfills, or separate waste from dumps. Waste banks are another waste sorting scheme. At waste banks, community members bring their garbage to sort in exchange for money. These are becoming increasingly popular and are slowly starting to look like a promising solution for waste management in Jakarta. They are considered a formal scheme, as they are organized by communities, and as of 2018 there 6,000 community waste banks in Indonesia[17]. Because there is such a lack of communication between this informal sector and the formal, there is no clear number or description for how much recycling actually happens. Waste banks are put in place mainly as an environmental awareness scheme, for extra income, and it is also encouraged by municipalities. However, for scavengers, their livelihood depends on picking through waste. A study was connected and it was found that waste banks recover up to 260 kg of waste per month, with the help of up to 10-800 community members (number depending on the month). Scavengers on the other had recover up to 239 kg per month, per single individual[18].

The issue is in part due to the disconnection of the informal and formal sectors of garbage collection being disconnected. As scavengers collect almost 92% of the amount of waste that a whole waste bank collects in a month, it would be beneficial for the government to include these informal workers into the formal scheme. Partnering the informal with the waste bank system would be beneficial for everyone. They have a experienced insight into the process and logistics of waste picking, as they do so as a livelihood. The government must also provide more adequate facilities for recycling as well as harsher rules towards waste management.

Government Action

The Indonesian government has decided to allocate a total of $1billion per year towards ocean and river waste clean up as of 2018, aiming to reduce its plastic pollution up to 75% by 2025, as stated at a World Oceans Summit, held in Bali, Indonesia[19]. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development is being urged to increase its budget for annual overseas aid for fighting plastic pollution around the world to up to 13 million pounds[20]. This debate came into play after the Blue Planet documentary features Indonesia's famous tourist destination Bali.

The administration in Jakarta employs over 4000 workers to clean up the local rivers. The workers are provided with health insurance and accommodation[21]. According to an article in the Jakarta Times published three years ago, this has reduced the number of clogging in rivers. Adequate infrastructure such as roads are required and should be funded by the government to ensure access by waste collection trucks are available to collect waste from more rural areas preventing dumping into oceans and rivers.

Two of Indonesia's largest Islamic organizations have been included in the government's plan towards fighting the plastic problem. The two groups, Nadatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have a total of 2 million followers, and have created ways to teach young children about the issues with single use plastic. “Sermons of Waste” is an initiative they have created to educate in schools about how recycling is not only for human economic benefit, but for the benefit of the planet[22]. A struggle they have is trying to educate older generations, who have been relying on single use plastics for generations. Religious leaders have a great effect on communities and have the ability to instill and share knowledge.

Lessons Learned

Providing locals with a source of income while helping maintain rivers free of plastic waste is an approach that can be implemented in other cities in the geographical south and east, or even the global north. This is evidence of global south/east theory; the global north can learn from approaches like this one when thinking about solutions to plastic waste in rivers and oceans. It was surprising to see how the approach taken to deal with plastic waste did not involve importing ideas from the western world, but rather using the local labour force ingenuity to find a solution. Indirectly, they are also increasing people’s awareness of the issue while helping them sustain themselves.

Having tourism as one of the main sources of income for citizens in a urban center makes effective waste management imperative to keep the aesthetics that attract local and international tourists to the city. An additional step that could be implemented by the city is to employ people to help clean the beaches from litter, similarly to what has been done to clean up rivers, and formalize the activities of scavengers. Having people clean the plastic stranded in the beaches can reduce the waste that may drive tourists away. The city could also invest in educating the population and tourists to reduce future waste and foster a culture towards ecological urbanism; adding more garbage cans near the beaches and implementing a sorting system, with clear signage, that allows people to separate garbage can help facilitate waste management. Implementing these suggestions will not only help the people but also the marine ecosystem; the seas nearby will receive less plastic pollution which could help reduce the number of plastics being ingested or harming marine life.  


Reference List

  1. Wright, Thomas (March 10, 2019). "How can Indonesia win against plastic pollution". The Conversation. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  2. Lamb, Kate (October 26, 2018). "Indonesians fight for more 'smelly money' to bear life near Jakarta's landfill mountain". The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2019.
  3. Willoughby, N. G.; Sangkoyo, Hendro; Lakaseru, Boyke O. (June 1997). "Beach litter: an increasing and changing problem for Indonesia". Marine Pollution Bulletin. 34 (6): 469.
  4. Simon, Nils; Schulte, Maro Luisa (2017). "Stopping Global Plastic Pollution: The Case for an International Convention". Heinrich Böll Stiftung Ecology. 43: 24.
  5. "Tourism becomes new star of Indonesia's economy: Report". The Jakarta Post. October 18, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  6. Wynne, Chloe (February 1, 2018). "Travel & Tourism Will Generate 2.4 Million New Jobs in Indonesia". World Travel & Tourism Council. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  7. Simon, Nils; Schulte, Maro Luisa (2017). "Stopping Global Plastic Pollution: The Case for an International Convention". Heinrich Böll Stiftung Ecology. 43: 19.
  8. Easen, Nick (June 13, 2013). "Indonesia's business boom". BBC. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  9. "What are microplastics?". National Ocean Service: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  10. Gregory, Murray R. (July 27, 2009). "Environmental Implications of Plastic Debris in Marine Settings - Entanglement, Ingestion, Smothering, Hangers-On, Hitch Hiking and Alien Invasions". Philosophical Sciences: Biological Transactions. 364 (1526): 2014.
  11. Partridge, Meaghan (August 2017). "Seven Reforms to Address Marine Plastic Pollution" (PDF). ECL Clinic Report for T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.
  12. Thompson, Andrea (September 4, 2018). "From Fish to Humans, A Microplastic Invasion May Be Taking a Toll". Scientific American. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  13. "Seafood Eaters May Be Ingesting Up To 11,000 Microplastic Particles A Year". IFL Science. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  14. Tyree, Chris; Morrison, Dan (September 5, 2017). "Invisibles: The plastic inside us". Orb Media. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  15. Nur, Y; Fazi, S; Wirjoatmodjo, N; Han, Q (2001). "Towards wise coastal management practice in a tropical megacity - Jakarta". Journal of Material Cycles and Waste Management. 44: 340.
  16. Leung, Hannah (April 22, 2018). "Five Asian Countries Dump More Plastic Into Oceans Than Anyone Else Combined: How You Can Help". Forbes. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  17. "The Poor World and the Rich World Face Different Problems with Their Waste". The Economist. September 29, 2018. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  18. Putri, Anissa Ratna; Fujimori, Takashi; Takaoka, Masaki (June 2018). "Plastic waste management in Jakarta, Indonesia: evaluation of material flow and recycling scheme". Journal of Material Cycles and Waste Management. 20: 2143.
  19. Oliphant, Roland (December 28, 2017). "Bali declares rubbish emergency as rising tide of plastic buries beaches". The Telegraph. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  20. "The UK to direct foreign aid budget to fight plastic pollution in developing countries". Climate Action. December 15, 2017. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  21. Wijaya, Callistasia Anggun (May 23, 2016). "Jakarta seeing results with cleaner rivers". Jakarta Post. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  22. Ahluwalia, Silkina (September 25, 2018). "Religious groups join forces to fight plastic pollution in Indonesia". CGTN America. Retrieved March 16, 2019.

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