Published On: Mon, Oct 10th, 2016

Plastic bags ban remains a dream in Indonesia

I remember when I was young how I tailed my mother to the wet market near our house to buy groceries. My job was to carry the basket with the items on my mother’s shopping list.

Thirty years later, my daughter follows me around in an air-conditioned hypermarket while pushing a trolley. She doesn’t need to carry a wicker basket like I did because we always let the cashier put our shopping items into plastic bags — dozens of them.

Plastic Recycling

Plastic bags ban remains a dream in Indonesia

A lot of housewives are like me: Simply put our groceries in plastic bags.

When major retailers in Jakarta decided to charge Rp 200 (1.5 US cents) per plastic bag, we coped by putting our groceries into boxes or brought our reusable bags from home. A friend of mine brought me a foldable reusable bag saying, “This would be handy whenever you have the urge for some urgent shopping.”

Other people prefer to pay the additional charge because, hey, it’s only Rp 200. In Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, major retailers charged Rp 1,500 per plastic bag and they still complain that the public’s compliance remains low.

The pay-for-plastic bag campaign was initiated by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, in cooperation with the Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo), in a trial program.

When the government decided to cut 1.9 million tons of waste from the 68 million tons of waste projected in 2019, the most visible effort was to reduce the use of plastic bags. In 2015 alone, Indonesia produced 64 million tons of waste, with plastic shopping bags accounting for 14 percent of the trash, the environment ministry said.

The pay-for-plastic bag campaign was based the ministry’s circular requiring retailers to charge Rp 200 per plastic bag, with the policy enforced in 23 cities. In June, the ministry announced the trial would continue until it issued a regulation in July and expanded the coverage to 514 cities and regencies.

Many people questioned the policy and asked where the proceeds from the sales of the plastic bags went. However, there was no major outcry against the policy. Either you pay for it while grumbling or you just bring your own bag.

But before the plastic bag diet became a daily habit for Indonesians, Aprindo decided to stop the campaign beginning last week, on the grounds that it did not have any legal basis to continue the program. The trial program formally ended in June and the retailers need the new regulation from the environment ministry to continue charging for plastic bags.

Although the campaign received a positive response in Jakarta, Aprindo chairman Roy N. Mandey said that there had been public objections to the charge, especially in the 10 cities that set the fee at between Rp 1,500 and Rp 10,000 per bag.

However, the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) and the environment ministry found that the public could accept the new policy. In March, a YLKI survey showed that 26.8 percent of customers accepted the policy and understood why they were being charged, while the ministry’s survey — from February to May — said 87.1 percent of customers brought their own bags when shopping. The environment ministry reported that there was a 25 to 30 percent decrease in plastic bag use across Indonesia during the three-month trial period earlier in the year.

The Olefin, Aromatic and Plastics Industry Association (Inaplas), however, said the annual total plastic bag production was actually 1 million, instead of the 9 million that makes up 14 percent of total waste.

Environmentalists campaigned for the ban on using plastic bags. Despite their convenience, we often neglect the fact that plastic bags are very dangerous to the environment and also negatively affect human health.

Plastic production uses 8 percent of the world’s oil production, which is equal to 200 million tons of plastic per year, and less than 3.5 percent is recycled, according to

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Secretariat has recommended a ban on all plastic bags globally. There are 40 countries and municipalities around the world that have instituted plastic bag bans.

If Indonesia is still unable to ban plastic bags, then the government could impose a tax on plastic bags. Ireland introduced a bag tax and has reported a reduction in the use of plastic bags by 90 percent, said.

We were already on the right track. Why should the government bow down to industry while there is still room for improvement to do a massive campaign and raise public awareness on the danger and toll of plastic bags?

Instead of scrapping the plastic bag fee, the government should have raised the fee to make people bring their own bags. And that should be done simultaneously across the archipelago, including in traditional markets.

As former UN under-secretary-general and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “The plastic bags, bottles and other debris piling up in the oceans and seas could be dramatically reduced by improved waste reduction, waste management and recycling initiatives”.

Reducing the use of plastic bags or charging for plastic bags is only a small step in implementing more thorough waste management in our society, which we have conveniently overlooked. And the next generation will have to pay for the damage that is caused by us.