In the face of mounting pressure from the scientific and international community on Indonesia to clean up its ocean plastics, the tourist island of Bali has taken the first step towards tightening its environmental legislation and introduced a ban on single use plastics.

Under Indonesia’s national 2008 Waste Management Law, responsibility for solid waste collection and disposal has been delegated to the country’s provincial and municipal authorities. This has been limited to garbage collection in the major cities before dumping it in open pits mistakenly considered ‘landfill’. Until now, no province has taken the initiative to go back upstream to regulate the distribution chain.

Announced on December 21 last year, by the recently elected Bali governor Wayan Koster under Gubernatorial Regulation (Pergub) No. 97/2018, the Bali Ban covers ‘single-use plastics’ and specifically references shopping bags, styrofoam and straws. It becomes effective on June 21 this year, giving stakeholders a six-month implementation period to phase out the products in ‘modern retail’ outlets only.

Traditional retail, open ‘wet markets’, small independent stores and family owned warungs (tiny street-food sellers), which comprise more than 60 per cent of Indonesia’s retail sector, are exempt from this first phase. A second phase, covering the hundreds of thousands of small outlets, will be introduced later in 2019, after Phase One implementation is assessed. This will be much more complex to monitor and enforce given the huge number of retailers.

The current regulation governs the basic types of plastics used in modern retail in particular: the limitations of plastics usage and product applications, but it also includes a regional provincial plan, guidance on the role of the public, an educational element, a funding plan, incentives and administrative sanctions (which are still being drafted).

“This policy is aimed at producers, distributors, suppliers and business actors, including individuals, to suppress the use of single-use plastics. They must substitute plastics with other materials,” said Koster, adding that administrative sanctions would be imposed for non-compliance. “If they disobey, we will take action, such as not extending their business permit.” This suggests that business closure would be the penalty.

To implement the ban, the governor has assembled a team comprising regional officials, academics, NGOs, and businesses, as well as customary village leaders and religious figures, to provide education, training, technical support and other activities to limit the use of plastics throughout the province.

Earlier drafts included plastics cutlery in the single-use category, according to a national campaign led by NGO action group Diet Kantong Plastik (DKP), which was co-opted onto the governor’s team.

DKP’s director Tiza Mafira, an Indonesian Harvard-educated environmental lawyer with policy making and business experience, has been working quietly behind the scenes with policy makers and Koster’s BLK team, and worked on the final draft of this PerGub to ban single-use plastics (Plastik Sekali Pakai or PSP).

DKP began campaigning against plastics use as early as 2008, launching plastics prevention campaigns such as Bali Fokus, Peduli Alam, Plasticfree Bali Bali-Bali Bebas Plastic and Bali Cantik Tanpa Plastik.

However, by 2013, two sisters – Melati and Isabel Wijsen – aged of 10 and 12, captured the international headlines with a movement called Bye Bye Plastic Bags, which has now grown beyond Bali into an international youth movement.

In the absence of any coherent garbage collection and disposal, the role of private small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in creating the basis of an infrastructure was extremely important. ABC, Bali Recycling, Temesi Integrated Waste Management (Composting and Recycling) and EcoBali have all stepped up to provide solutions for sorting, collection and recycling in the ten years since these campaigns began.

With pressure mounting, the then governor Pastika created a three-year policy called Bali Bebas Plastik (BBP) 2010-2013. It was designed to work alongside the local village and district action, which in reality were almost non-existent. The BBP was renewed as a policy for 2015-2018.

But, as is all too common in Indonesia, the BBP policy was simply a smokescreen, a document that could be pointed to in order to demonstrate that the politicians had the matter in hand. It was never implemented.

Mounting pressure from all of the above organisations, an almost weekly stream of bad publicity in the Australian and international mainstream media, viral video clips of filthy beaches, surfers and divers paddling through floating garbage, and daily complaints on the various Bali Facebook pages that were supposed to be promoting tourism, were beginning to have an impact on its image as the ideal tropical ‘Island of the Gods’.

The June 2018 provincial election changed that attitude, along with a change of government, which saw governor Pastika replaced by governor Wayan Koster. He had, among other policies, campaigned on an environmental ticket.

“My plan is to preserve the nature of Bali, as well as to keep the quality of the tourism industry,” said the governor in a pre-election statement. “We hope that our policies will lead to a 70 per cent decline in Bali’s marine plastics within a year.”

Surprisingly, unlike the previous administration’s BBP 2010, the new regulation has met with little resistance from the main retailers, supermarkets and minimarts, with many of the largest retailers refusing to distribute plastics bags immediately after the ban was announced.

Of course, the ban on plastics bags is a relatively easy regulation to implement. The ban on plastics straws will be harder to enforce on an island that annually receives more than 5.5 million thirsty tourists, and it remains to be seen how enforcement will be handled.


Extending the ban

According to the Indonesia DKP movement, Jakarta has been using up to 300 million plastics bags per year, adding to the 357,000 tonnes of plastics waste generated by the city.

The city actually has Bylaw No. 3/2013 on waste management, Article 129 of which stipulates a hefty fine of between Rp 5 million (US$343) and Rp 25 million ($1,795) to vendors providing plastics bags. However, it is rarely, if at all, enforced.

Back in 2016, Jakarta city imposed a charge on customers of Rp 200 ($0.01) per bag at modern retailers, following a decree by the Environment and Forestry Ministry imposed on 27 cities.

However, despite a 55 per cent nationwide reduction of plastics bag use during the three-month trial period, then-governor Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama scrapped the policy following protests from retailers.

There have been reports in the media that Jakarta will pass some form of plastics regulation (locally known as kresek) in early 2019, but the controversial governor Anies Baswedan has announced that he doesn’t want to be rushed into passing the policy without a thorough study of the issue, and he added that the provincial government is still revising some aspects of the draft for the Gubernatorial Decree (Pergub) to give a legal foundation to the ban.

“It’s not simply about banning [plastics bags], but we have to make sure there’s a good process for adopting alternatives, to make sure that all the materials for those alternatives are ready,” he said.

Currently Jakarta’s satellite city, Bekasi, has issued a Mayoral Regulation No. 61/2018 expected to come into force in mid-2019, but the draft as it currently stands will likely serve as little more than a cosmetic policy. It only encourages retailers to replace single-use plastics bags with so-called ‘biodegradables’.

And here is the crunch: the ‘biodegradables’ being heavily promoted for more than a decade are oxo-degradable additives, which bring with them a whole host of other problems.