Living Next to a Garbage Mountain_PR Project Story_Muhammad Farhandika
Today, the world is a big place and has many people. With around eight billion people living on this planet, we need many things and that includes raw materials, consumables, and more. Of course, we need to do this as we live and breathe. We need to buy food, appliances, electronics, and others. Every year, we spend around 44 trillion USD only for the things we consume and use. Take Indonesia for example. Indonesia is a large country with a population around 271 million people. In July 2022, Indonesian consumer spending has reached 155 quintillion IDR or around 100 billion USD. To meet this huge demand, we need a material that is durable enough, easy to shape, and cheap to produce. We already have such miracle material: plastics. Most of our used and consumed items has plastics in one way of shape or form, like packaging, bottles, and any of the sorts. We use plastics a lot for its versatility, durability, and it is cheap to mass produce. In 2019, plastic factories have produced 368 million tonnes of it worldwide. The top three major plastic producers are coming from China, North America, and the rest of Asia. 68 percent of plastics are originated from these three regions. These plastics is being manufactured to meet the market demands locally and globally. However, this rate of consumption of ours has a catch. Whenever we consume things, we throw away those things as well. Many of our wastes are dumped on a landfill and left untouched. This unfortunately applies to one of our greatest inventions as well. Ever since its conception, mankind’s miracle material, plastics has generated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of waste since its mass production worldwide. Most of those plastics, in the form of disposable items are left to rot in waste disposal area and those are not even being incinerated let alone recycled. In Indonesia, 7.8 million tonnes plastics are thrown away yearly but 4.9 million tonnes of them are mismanaged, meaning uncollected, mistreated, and leaked from unsanitary landfills. Most plastics can only degrade until the next 400 years. With the number of plastics that has been produced though out the years and the characteristic of plastic is durable and “undegradable”, the world we lived in might be filled with plastic wastes sooner and faster.
Nowadays, the effects of untreated plastic wastes are noticeable. Pictures of plastic mountain landfills in the developing countries, the once pristine beaches are now littered with bottles and wraps, and garbage patches in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are common to us now. Even the stuff we consume like food, beverages and even tap water may contain microplastics in it. Every week, we consume roughly five grams of plastics in a form of microplastics from our food and drinks. To make things even worse, the air we breathe has plastic particulates in it. These micro toxic not-supposed-to-be-consumed particulates are coming from unsanitary landfills and mistreated plastic wastes. Inhaling much of it can lead to inflammation in our respiratory systems like our lungs and throat. We want to breathe air right? And not plastics of course. Plastic wastes not just affect us humans, but other creatures too. Fishes and other marine creatures are also becoming a victim to this waste mismanagement. Plastics can build up within sea creatures’ muscle tissue. Well, we surely want to eat sushi and lobsters plastic free, is it not? Environmental activists claim this plastic problem to be an environmental crisis and scientists are trying to push this important issue to the government and policy makers saying that it needs to be solved as soon as possible. If this issue is not to be solved immediately, the story of King Midas become a reality. In pursuing wealth and prosperity, we turn everything we touch into plastics. Surely, we would not want such ecological disaster.
Enter me, an average Indonesian consumer. Like any other Indonesians, I too use plastics every day. Things like, plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic food wraps, and more. I cannot get away with plastics as it has become a part of my daily necessity in Indonesia. Whenever I walk to a supermarket, I use plastic bags to carry my groceries. Every time I want water, I buy bottled water as tap water in Indonesia is not safe to drink. Coffee shops always use plastic cups for takeaway orders. Snacks like chips and street food are served with in a form of plastic containers. Guess where this waste goes, straight to the landfill of course. Back in Indonesia, I lived in a region near where the one of the biggest landfills situated in: Bantar Gebang. This landfill stands 15 stories high and larger than 200 football fields. This site collects every day approximately 7000 tonnes of wastes from the capital city, Jakarta and the neighbouring cities. Every day, I saw a line of garbage trucks from Jakarta and its satellite cities carrying wastes to the site. Most of the wastes those trucks carried were plastics and other recyclables. Sometimes, I could catch a whiff of the place in the morning, bringing unpleasant aroma by the morning wind to my house. There, recyclables like plastics are only being picked up by scavengers for it to be sold for cash. If it is not being picked up by a truck to be “processed” in Bantar Gebang, those trash are just left on the street or in the gutter. In Indonesia, it is not uncommon that to see the streets littered with used plastic bags, plastic cups and bottles, and also packaging and wrappings. Seeing trash being left out giving impression that the place I originated can be seen as a dumpster, unpleasant and dirty. If those plastic waste were not to be picked up by the waste management from the streets and sewers, it could lead to blockages in the city sewage system and could cause water overflowing and floods whenever the sky is raining. That occurrence was a norm back them. Every rain season, water from the sewage overflowed and flooded the streets, bringing plastic wastes with it.
Now comparing to my experiences in the developed countries like Germany and Australia, plastic wastes are treated very differently. For example, bringing reusable shopping bags are highly encourage every time I did grocery shopping. Every plastic bottle of bottled beverages has a deposit with it, giving financial refund for every time other people and I threw away my used bottles in a specialised automated machine. Reusable plastic cups like tumblers and keep cups are persuaded by coffee shops. Even takeaway foods are served with reusable plastic containers. Unlike Indonesia, to reuse and recycle is very easy to do here. Unlike Indonesia, where people just throw away their plastic bags and cups where ever it is convenient to them, people here are very conscious about their trash. Here, people here are aware about where they threw away their trash, making the streets look relatively clean and safe. Also, we sort out our waste, which one is general land waste, which one is paper-based waste, and which one is plastic waste. Sorting out our garbage can help the waste management companies to decide which one of our things we throw away should go to the landfill and which one should be processed and make a new product out of it. This will greatly reduce the risk of overcapacity to the landfill.
Thankfully, things are changing in Indonesia. For starters, a new recycling plant dedicated to plastic waste has been opened in Pasuruan, East Java. This recycling centre will have a production capacity of 25,000 tonnes of recycled food-grade plastics per year. New recycling plants have also been opened in South Bali, managing 120 tonnes of plastic waste coming from the region daily. Much closer to the capital city, a Thai company, Indorama Ventures has unveiled its plan to create a new recycling plant in Karawang, West Java. This new plant will recycle up to 1.92 billion plastic bottles per year. The government claimed that these new recycling centres will help in achieving its goal reducing plastic waste up to 70 percent by 2025.
However, in my opinion new recycling plants may not the only solution to minimise plastic waste. Every problem can be solved more effectively from the bottom-up approach. Grocery stores in Indonesia today encourages their customers to bring their own bags. If they do not have their own shopping bags, supermarkets offer biodegradable plastic bags as an alternative. Coffee shops has replaced their plastic cups and straws to their paper-based counterparts. It is a small step, but slowly and surely, we will avoid this ecological nightmare where every thing we consume has plastics in it. Because it is only through ourselves first, we can change the world.
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