Over the past few months, certain supermarkets in Jakarta have stopped indulging their customers with free plastic bags, which have been replaced with cardboard boxes. The protocol will continue and other stores, big or small, as well as traders in traditional markets will have to follow the new norm now that a gubernatorial regulation banning single-use plastic bags has come into force.
Gubernatorial Regulation No. 142/2019 was signed on the eve of the New Year, but the Jakarta government postponed its enforcement of the policy for six months to allow for the public to become familiarized with it. Jakarta Environment Agency head Andono Warih said the city administration had reached out to the management groups of 85 shopping centers, 158 traditional markets and more than 2,000 convenience stores across the city as part of a campaign against single-use plastic bags.
Read also: Jakarta begins new chapter in plastic waste reduction
Jakarta had been cautious in dealing with plastic bags. Then-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama proposed the use of environmentally friendly plastic bags in 2016, although he ultimately followed the decision of the Environment and Forestry Ministry to charge consumers Rp 200 per plastic bag.
Plastic bags revolutionized the culture of shopping decades ago. However, as a consequence, piles of plastic waste now litter the world’s seas and shores, degrading marine ecosystems.
News of whales being found dead with stacks of plastic waste in their bellies in several parts of the world last year evince the horror plastic waste has generated. In the same year, researchers in Canada found microplastics in the digestive systems of every whale they examined.
Studies have shown that plastics are difficult and costly to recycle. As in the case of Jakarta, most plastic waste ends up in landfills. It would take the waste an estimated 300 years to photodegrade.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 7,702 tons of Jakarta's trash was disposed of at the Bantar Gebang landfill every day. Over one-third of the waste comprised plastics, according to the Jakarta Environment Agency. During the pandemic, the waste dumped at Bantar Gebang dropped significantly to 189,979 tons in May from 305,339 tons in January.
With the economy gradually resuming, it is very likely that the volume of trash in the city, including plastic waste, will increase, bringing back the same old problems.
Citizens of the capital should be motivated to solve the issue of plastic waste not just because the contract to dump waste in Bantar Gebang ends next year, but because of the serious environmental consequences.
Read also: Skyscraper of waste:Greater Jakarta drowning in mountains of trash
The single-use plastic bag regulation is far from enough, even if it threatens to terminate the operation of shopping centers that violate the rule, because it allows for the use of plastic bags outside markets and shopping centers, including for online shopping and food delivery, two services that are thriving.
The city administration has for years promoted its campaign to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic waste and has to some extent provided an impetus for community initiatives as in the case of Bank Sampah (Waste Bank). In concert with bans or other forms of punishment, which are ineffective by themselves, communities must be incentivized for real change to take place.