Tackling Indonesia’s massive plastics pollution may seem like Mission Impossible but an exciting waste collection and recycling initiative, Stop Ocean Plastics, proves that change for the better is possible. Recycling International headed to East Java to learn more.
To witness the impact and scale of ocean-bound plastics on East Java, the fishing port of Lekok is the place to start. The village beach southeast of Indonesia’s second largest city Surabaya is covered with a 50 cm deep mush of household waste, mostly plastics but also nappies, paper, clothing, furniture, you name it.
All flooded in from the land and the sea to create this sad and shocking scene. To get good photos, I suggest Mahesa Adishakti, technical officer at the Stop Ocean Plastics platform (STOP for short), walks over the waste. ‘Better not,’ he warns, ‘you would sink like in a swamp.’
What makes the pollution at Lekok extra shocking is that the mush is the result of only one year’s pollution. ‘In December 2022, it took 300 volunteers 10 days and 40 truck loads to clean it all up and now we’re back to square one,’ says Adishakti, while insisting all that effort has not been in vain: ‘It adds to the awareness that we’re in this together and that people and communities have to take responsibility and act.’
Plastic pollution is a big and fast-growing problem in Indonesia, especially in East Java. This region has several major rivers which serve as corridors for plastic waste to reach the ocean. In addition, East Java’s growing population and rapid industrialisation have contributed to an increase in plastic consumption and waste.
40 000 TONNES, 333 JOBS
The STOP initiative helps cities and communities in south-east Asia, mainly in Indonesia, combat marine plastics. Since its launch in 2017, it has provided access to waste management and recycling services to more than 300 000 people, created 333 jobs, built four collection/sorting stations and prevented more than 40 000 tonnes of waste, including more than 5 000 tonnes of plastics, from leaking into the environment.
STOP has three projects on Java and one on Bali. One of the Java projects covers the Pasuruan district which includes 20 or so villages and communities, including Lekok. Before 2017, Pasuruan lacked a proper waste collection system, according to STOP’s programme director Mike Webster. ‘Only 4% of the population had access to waste management,’ he says. ‘
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