26 January 2022: Rainy season exacerbates the existing marine plastic issue. Heavy rain accelerates the amount of plastic leakage and generates accumulation of plastic in the oceans. The occurrence can not only cause annual floods, but also bring harmful effects to marine ecosystem in the long-term period. To facilitate further discussion about the issue, The Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris (RKC-MPD) of Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) together with the United Nations of Development Programme (UNDP) Indonesia held an online talk with the topic “Rainy Days: High Season for Marine Plastic Litter?” As the part of SDG talk series by the UNDP Indonesia, this event shed light on innovative and practical solutions proposed and carried out by the youth in Indonesia to overcome the marine plastic issue.

The event started with an opening remark from Mr Suryo Tomi, Head of Communication UNDP Indonesia, who cited the ever-increasing production and consumption of plastics as one of the reasons behind the generation of huge amount of plastic waste. Meanwhile, Mr Michikazu Kojima, Research Fellow of ERIA, recognized the power of youth to lead the way to create positive changes to tackle the issue, and welcomed this collaboration with UNDP as an opportunity to engage with the younger generations.

Dr Reza Cordova, researcher at National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) Indonesia, acknowledged that according to the monitoring he has conducted in 9 rivers in Jakarta Bay, there is a strict co-relation between higher rain fall and a larger amount of waste going into the sea. Especially during the rainy season stretching from November to February, more waste is observed in the coastal area. He underlined the importance of enforcing existing laws and regulations to accelerate efforts in mitigating marine plastics. Organic materials could be feasible alternatives to single-use plastics if the government and industry work collaboratively to cut the production cost and promote its application in many sectors.

To address the issue of land-to-sea waste, Dr Reza underlined the problem with the current waste management system. He pointed out several areas in which the system can see some improvements. These include: the need of awareness raising to encourage household wastes’ sorting and recycling, a disclosure of effective recycling methods to encourage citizens’ participation (currently only 15% of the citizens recycle and 70% of them are disappointed with the result), increasing the efficiency of waste bank, addressing the lack of funding in waste management (out of 519 cities in Indonesia, only five allocate more than 5% of their local budget for the waste management. For the vast majority, the allocated budget would be less than 3%).

Ms Dithi Sofia, Programme Manager at Indonesia’s Plastic Bag Diet Movement, encouraged stakeholders to lead by example. Her organization is now technically supporting 6 governmental districts including Jakarta to develop regulations to prohibit single-use-plastic bags. Enforcing the ban on single-use plastics in traditional markets has been a challenge, and currently the compliance rate is 80% in Jakarrta, but by involving role models among traders and buyers to take lead and influence others the Movement is aiming at 100% ban by 2025 in Jakarta. Increase in internet shopping during the pandemic has increased the plastic packaging waste, she analysed. While in household level, evaluating and managing own waste (e.g., sending waste to nearest waste banks through online transportation platform) is key. Different places might have different needs, therefore, the solutions should accommodate each unique one.

“It is not about true or false, it is all about consistency,” she emphasized.

Ms Laura Seca Widyatmodjo, Founder of Young Golfers for A Cause, said that her concern about plastic waste started when she observed a lot of plastics in the river near the golf course. Her activities started by cleaning up the nearby coastline with like-minded people around her, but she quickly realized that refusing to use single-use plastics is a more effective way of addressing the root cause of the issue. To create a change, she emphasized that the young generation could start from small actions, like bringing their own bags to supermarkets or tumbler to coffee shops, and scale them up. Ms Laura inspires youths to have commitment and positive mindset to make a difference, even though they are perceived to have no power.

“Teenagers like to follow trend. If we can make environmentally conscious actions trendy on social media, we can create a whole movement.” she stressed.

Ms Livita Sumali, Archipelagic and Island States Forum Representative at the UNDP Indonesia, emphasized that marine plastics is first and foremost a transboundary problem. And just as much as Indonesia can be a marine plastic polluter, a big quantify of plastic waste which ends up in Indonesia also comes from the Pacific region. As examples, she cited the United Kingdom allowed the usage of disposable plastic cutleries until it was banned recently. 1 million sea birds and other marine species are believed to have suffered from these plastic cutleries which ended up in the ocean. Similarly, countries like the Philippines consume 160 million sachet every day due to its affordability. Given that 80% of waste is mismanaged in the Philippines, the plastic sachet is one of the major causes of pollution to the natural environment.  Ms Livita explained that influencing people around you first is a powerful and simple action to make other people change their behaviours. In the context of reducing plastic waste, giving a unique gift that supports an eco-friendly lifestyle can be an option.

“Not only verbal examples, but practical examples could also be effective to change people’s behaviour,” she added.

In the end of the talk, it was noted that collective action is highly required to create the change. Every single person can help reducing the plastic waste based on his/her own capacity.