Plastic- a blessing or a curse?


Introduced 100 years ago, there are many advantages to plastic. It is lighter than metal or glass, easily formed, stable and inexpensive to produce,  While my parents can still remember the first plastic object that their parents bought, I was already surrounded by it as a child. Nowadays, plastic is everywhere. There are many varieties and multiple ways of using it. Babies are given plastic pacifiers, kids play with plastic toys, we all have a pair or two of plastic flip flops. Everyday, we produce large amounts of plastic waste as almost everything is wrapped and then packed again in plastic.

There is no away!

plastic collectors at one of Yogya’s biggest dumpsites in Imogiri

Plastics are made from petrol chemicals. These chemicals cannot be absorbed back into the ecologies around us. Plastics don’t biodegrade, they photo-degrade. This means that plastic (in contact with water or the sun) after years and years will slowly break into smaller poisonous pieces. Eventually they are so small, that they absorbed by the plants, fish and animals that we eat. When burned, plastic creates poisonous dioxin molecules that then rain back down onto fields and forests. This means that we cannot simply throw plastic away as it will stick around for generations.

Why is this a problem? 

There are many! Let us start with the problems that affect us directly.

Plastic is not only harmful when it is
thrown away. Plasticizers in toys or other plastic items can cause cancer. Many of the ingredients in plastic items that are on the market here, are forbidden in Europe. These harmful substances can be found in the blood of almost all of us and work in a similar way to hormones. They can seriously damage our hormonal systems.  Studies have shown a link between infertility and cancer in men due to harmful substances in plastic. Other effects are birth and degenerative diseases. Dangerous  BPA  molecules which cause heart disease are found in plastic boxes, tooth fillings and tins. These molecules bioaccumulate in our bodies and are passed on through mothers to the young.

Stop burning plastic!

Cows living permanently on a huge dump site in Imogiri, Yogyakarta

Some try to get rid of plastic waste by burning it openly on the street or in their backyard. This is dangerous to our health. Poisons such as carbon monoxide are released into the air. These poisons cause cancer, impotence, asthma, many allergies and respiratory diseases.

Toxic components inhaled through smoke from burning plastic materials may cause hormonal imbalance. Researchers found that inhaling burnt plastic materials causes an alteration in the sexual characteristics of birds (from male to female). They have discovered the same defects can easily occur in human beings.

Setting plastic on fire simply does not reach high enough temperatures to destroy many of the dangerous chemicals created when plastic burns. The ash is also potentially hazardous and should not be spread on the soil. Plastic should never be burned in the open air. There are recycling options available for many of these products.


To be continued

Indonesia is the second biggest plastic producer in the world, only “beaten” by China. So this is a huge topic!

We will continue this series with articles about plastic in the oceans, the waste system in Yogya, waste banks/ bank sampah, ecobricks and other creative solutions to the waste problem, as well as some suggestions of what each of us can to in the short or long term to contribute to the reduction and recycling of waste. If you have ideas regarding these topics that you want to share, or are interested in a collaboration with SEMAR, please contact us. We are also keen to know where eco-friendly alternatives are available in Yogya!


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