RI relies on imported plastics as recycling woes hold nation back
The country’s plastic industry must import plastic scraps because its waste management system has failed to produce a sufficient supply of the plastic that is needed for raw materials, a government official has said.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director for the chemical downstream industry, Taufiek Bawazier, said local industry players had to import 350,000 tons of plastic scraps last year to meet the national demand of 7.3 million tons.
Local plastic collectors only contributed 1.1 million tons, he said, with the remaining plastic coming from locally produced sources at 2.3 million tons and virgin plastic imports at 3.5 million.
“If we establish a good waste management system, which is the job of the Environment and Forestry Ministry and local administrations as stipulated in the 2008 law on waste management, industry players won’t need to import,” Taufiek told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
He added that plastic recyclers could not just accept any form of plastic waste, as scraps had to meet certain recycling standards. To meet the standards, the materials must be clean and must not come from landfills, as the end products might be contaminated otherwise, Taufiek said.
These standards are regulated under Trade Ministerial Regulation No. 31/2016 on waste imports, which sets rules on hazardous content, requires that independent surveyors conduct inspections before shipments and states that importers must be direct producers instead of traders.
Taufiek said producers mainly recycled the scraps into plastic pellets on top of other value-added products. These plastic pellets are then exported to other countries, giving Indonesia’s plastic recycling industry a major boost, especially after China, previously a major pellet supplier, imposed a ban on waste imports in 2018.
He noted that the industry’s added value was Rp 10.2 trillion last year, contributing US$92 million to the country’s 2017 foreign exchange earnings.
Taufiek acknowledged, however, that the 2016 ministerial regulation contained several loopholes that needed to be revised to prevent cases of misuse.
Indonesian Plastic Recycling Association (ADUPI) vice chairman Justin Wiganda said some plastic recycling companies resorted to importing materials because exporting countries had better waste management systems compared to Indonesia, which still relied on landfills. As a result, these companies spent less time sorting their materials, he said.
“A better waste management system will not only benefit a certain industry, but also the Indonesian people in general,” he said.
A similar concern was raised by Indonesian Pulp and Paper Association (APKI) executive director Liana Bratasida, who claimed that domestic paper waste could only fulfill 50 percent of the local paper industry’s demand at 6.4 million tons of paper waste annually.
“That is because the country has not yet developed a good and proper waste collecting system. The quality of the domestic paper waste also doesn’t meet the standards needed by the industry,” she said.
The import of paper waste is also regulated under the 2016 ministerial regulation, along with that of plastics and metals. However, unlike plastic importers, paper importers are not required to obtain approval from the Environment and Forestry Ministry. Imported paper and metal waste also do not have to pass inspections before the shipment process and upon arrival in Indonesia.
Observers have said that loopholes in the regulation have contributed to the rampant smuggling of plastic waste from developed countries. Waste imports to Indonesia soared from 10,000 tons per month in late 2017 to 35,000 tons per month in late 2018 following the Chinese ban, a Greenpeace report revealed.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry returned Friday five containers of trash from Tanjung Priok Port in Surabaya, East Java, to the United States after finding that the containers that were supposed to contain only clean paper scraps also contained “significant amounts” of diapers, plastic scraps, wood, fabrics and shoes.
The Trade Ministry’s international trade director general, Oke Nurwan, said his office was currently studying recommendations from concerned stakeholders to revise the 2016 ministerial regulation.
“One of the main changes will be that importers must obtain a recommendation from the Environment and Forestry Ministry to import nonhazardous paper and metal,” Oke told the Post on Monday.