Reducing or avoiding?

So what can we personally do about the waste emergency? And what do others do already?


Reducing waste

In October last year, a rule for customers in Indonesia to pay for plastic bags at stores was scrapped by a Retail Enterprises Association. This was a huge step backwards in the efforts to reduce waste and protect the environment. However, the city of Bandung recently prohibited the use of styrofoam packaging, not only for restaurants and food vendors, who pack takeaway food, but also for bigger industries. The city aims not only to save the rivers from being inundated with Styrofoam, which causes flooding, but also to protect the health of its citizens. Styrofoam is known to contain cancer-causing chemicals.

The United Nations also finally declared a war on waste. By introducing the „CleanSeas campaign“, they demand greater involvement from governments in the reduction of plastic waste. Industries shall reduce plastic packaging and design products more sustainably. Consumers are requested to rethink their wastefulness „before our oceans suffer from further irreversible damage“, the UN states.


It is possible in small steps on a local level as well, as the Jogja community school proves. They have introduced “plastic-free days, on which the students are not allowed to bring any disposable plastic to school. This way, the students and their parents learn that it is possible to bring snacks and drinks without using plastic and hopefully adopt this change in their daily habits.

The real solution

The obvious solution is avoiding disposable packaging altogether. It is not only the waste that is produced that causes environmental and health problems. Most environmental impacts take place during the manufacturing of the product.

Recycling is definitely needed. But there are different grades of plastic. When recycled, plastic is most often down-cycled into a lower grade. The lower the grade the less the value. The less the value, the less likely it is to be recycled again.

So we need to prevent environmental harm before it happens. This is a much more sustainable approach to just treating the symptoms of the problem. While the waste problem obviously has to be addressed by the government, we can all contribute by avoiding disposable plastic products as much as possible.


Are there alternatives to plastic?

Some big companies are trying to tackle the plastic waste in the oceans by recycling it into yarn and creating fancy clothes. Parley for the Oceans and Adidas produce a shoe made out of ocean plastic and old fishing nets. G-Star and the musician Pharrel Williams promote their „bionic yarn“ made from PET bottles that were collected in the oceans. While this is definitely a good way to advocate for the use of less plastic, it doesn’t solve the problem as such. Each time plastic based clothes are washed, small particles dissolve and are washed back into rivers and oceans.

There are other companies that have developed alternative products to address the ever-increasing amount of plastic that is thrown away every day. The Indian start-up Bakeys produces baked edible spoons, knives and chopsticks that come in different flavours. If they are not eaten, they biodegrade within 5 days. The German company Leaf Republic sells disposable plates made from leaves. These are as stable as plastic and fully biodegradable.

In Indonesia, several inspiring alternatives are on the market.

The Bali-based company Avani offers plastic bags made from cassava, which are completely degradable and compostable and can break down under water and on land.

XXLab, a female collective from Jogja is focusing on art, science and free technology. They use the waste that is produced in soy production and that would otherwise pollute the rivers to develop edible cellulose, biofuel and bio leather.


How can I take responsibility for what I consume?

Reduce your consumption of plastic items!

  • Buy „refill“ packages for shampoo/oil/soap etc
  • Bring your own shopping bag or ask for a box instead of several plastic bags in the supermarket
  • Buy your vegetables and fruit at a market where they are not wrapped in plastic and politely decline having them packed in a plastic bag, but use your own bag instead.
  • Use refillable bottles/ containers for food
  • Repair broken things instead of throwing them away and buying new ones

Make sure your waste gets recycled!

  • Join a bank sampah
  • Buy recycled/upcycled products
  • The initiative „Take 3“ encourages everyone to collect 3 pieces of waste wherever you go and throw them somewhere where they can be collected for recycling.

Make sure everyone knows the problem!

  • Ask your favourite shop/ restaurant not to use as much plastic anymore as it is important to you as a customer
  • Demand the banning of plastic bags as is already the case in Rwanda and Bangladesh, soon to be followed by France and the state of California #banthebag
  • Talk about reducing waste with your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
  • Stop burning plastic or throwing waste into rivers and the ocean and prevent others from doing so!

Where to consume and buy eco-friendly/plastic-free in Jogja

  • While there is still a lot of plastic in the city, at least big supermarket chains such as Superindo and Mirota promote reusable bags and paper boxes instead of plastic bags.
  • Milas sells recycled handmade paper
  • ViaVia Fair Trade Shop tries to avoid plastic packaging
  • Milas and ViaVia sell  beautiful reusable bags
  • Lokaloka uses „we are not plastic“ bags and bamboo straws and you can return their juice bottles
  • Warung kita also sells these bamboo straws
  • At organic markets you are encouraged to bring your own bags and containers
  • Avanti cassava-based bags can be purchased online or at Mediterana restaurant/ at Sri Gaia at the Milas organic market.

We really hope that this is a very incomplete list and would love to hear from you about further shops/ restaurants etc that offer or use products that are an alternative to plastic. Please let us know and we will update the list! Thank you!

Plastic in the oceans

Some weeks ago, we spent a night in Parangtritis. It was pouring down that night. When we woke up, the clouds were gone, but the beach looked like a dump-site. The waste that people upriver in Yogyakarta had thrown into the rivers had been swept into the ocean and part of it was being washed ashore by the waves.

Globally, 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually flows into the oceans. This means that every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is “thrown” into the seas. If this continues, this could mean that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.


Just the tip of the iceberg

Most of the plastic in the oceans is not washed back to the shore, but creates gigantic garbage swirls. In the midst of the ocean you will find huge circular sea currents, which absorb the plastic waste and rotate it constantly. The most famous garbage swirl is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the North Pacific, which is growing every year. It has reached the size of Kalimantan and Sumatra combined.

In every km2 of the ocean, you can find up to 46,000 pieces of plastic waste. The amount of plastic floating at the surface is so big that it can be seen from space – huge garbage „carpets“ that move with the currents. However, the plastics floating at the surface are only the tip of the iceberg. More than 70 percent of the plastic waste sinks to the seabed. Only 15% is washed back to the land. If you visit some beaches in Bali these days it is hard to imagine that it is only that small percentage. There are plastic bags, old plastic shoes and all kinds of waste along the once picture-perfect stretches of sand.


A disastrous fate 

Coastal inhabitants and sea creatures are suffering from the plastic overload. 267 marine species are directly affected by the plastic waste, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. Turtles get trapped in old fishing nets and nylon strings, and they feed on plastic bags, as they confuse them with jellyfish. Toxic additives in the plastic that dissolve into the sea affect the oceans’ flora and fauna. Partly decomposed plastic particles can be found everywhere in our oceans. Fish, shrimp and small organisms such as plankton eat them and so they come back through the food chain to human beings in the end.

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