Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago and has one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet. It is also second to China as the world’s second most ocean polluter. The country has realized that what it is contributing to the world in terms of plastic pollution cannot continue, and has formulated an action plan to reduce, and eventually eliminate plastic pollution. It has some serious goals—cut marine plastic waste by 70 percent in five years, and become plastic pollution free by 2040. That is just a single generation. According to the World Bank, Indonesia generates 24,500 tons of plastic waste every day. Of that, some estimate 20 percent of that plastic pollution ends up in the country’s rivers and oceans.
“Our beautiful nation is grappling with a serious plastic pollution challenge. We are home to the world’s largest archipelago – more than 17,000 islands, 81,000 kilometres of coastlines and a rich abundance of biodiverse marine ecosystems. Our pristine natural environment is a gift that we have treasured for thousands of years, and one that we must pass down to future generations,” Luhut B. Pandjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia said in the 2020 World Economic Forum annual meeting last week.
“At the same time, the amount of plastic waste generated in Indonesia each year is growing at unsustainable levels. In our cities, our waterways and our coastlines, the accumulation of toxic plastic waste is harming our food systems and the health of our people. Our booming fishing industry, the second-largest in the world, is under threat from rising levels of marine plastic debris. By 2025, the amount of plastic waste leaking into our oceans could increase to 800,000 tonnes – if no action is taken.
“I’m proud to announce that Indonesia will be choosing not what is easy, but what is right. Rather than staying with a ‘business as usual’ approach, we will be embracing a sweeping, full-system-change approach to combatting plastic waste and pollution, one that we hope will spark greater collaboration and commitment from others on the global stage.”
“The vision goes even further: by 2040, we aim to achieve a plastic pollution-free Indonesia – one that embodies the principle of the circular economy, in which plastics will no longer end up in our oceans, waterways and landfills, but will go on to have a new life.”
Five points of action
To successfully reach the 70% reduction target by 2025, we are committed to leading five system-change interventions that will change the way plastics are produced, used, and disposed of.
1) Reduce or substitute plastic usage to prevent the consumption of 1.1 million tonnes of plastic per year. We will work with industry leaders in Indonesia to transform their supply chains by rooting out plastic materials that can be avoided. Examples include replacing single-use packaging with reusable packaging; embracing new delivery models, such as refill shops; and empowering consumers to move away from single-use plastic consumption.
2) Redesign plastic products and packaging with reuse or recycling in mind. Recognizing that some forms of plastics cannot be substituted with alternative materials, we need to make sure that they do not become mismanaged waste. We will work with manufacturers and innovators to champion an industry-wide shift towards circular plastics – with the ultimate goal of making all plastic waste a valuable commodity for reuse or recycling.
3) Double plastic waste collection to 80% by 2025. Currently, around 39% of the total plastic waste in Indonesia is collected; in rural and remote areas, this figure is as low as 16%.[ii] We need to aggressively invest in our waste-collection infrastructure, both in the formal sector (government employees) and the robust informal sector (waste pickers, many of them women, who play a significant role in our national waste management efforts).
4) Double our current recycling capacity to process an additional 975,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year.[iii] In 2017, only 10% of plastics generated in Indonesia were recycled. We urgently need to close this capacity gap by directing investment into expanding existing infrastructure facilities and building new infrastructure to match the explosive growth in plastic production across the ASEAN region.
5) Build or expand safe waste disposal facilities to manage an additional 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste per year.[iv] This is our last chance to put a safeguarding measure at the end of the plastic lifecycle to prevent plastic waste from becoming plastic pollution. These facilities will allow us to safely dispose of non-recyclable plastic materials, as well as plastic waste that is generated in remote locations without recycling facilities.
To achieve these goals, Indonesia will work with consumers and manufacturers to achieve a circular plastic solution, with the goal of making all plastics a valuable commodity for reuse and recycling. Manufacturers who claim that consumers prefer plastics should take note. With more than 100 million Indonesians, these manufacturers better start innovating or risk losing out on a massive market to sell their products.
None of these executives are smiling. They have launched the fund in an effort to clean up the oceans and prevent plastics from entering the evironment in the first place. Left to right: Rob Kaplan (Founder & CEO, Circulate Capital), Bambang Candra (Asia-Pacific Commercial Vice President, Dow Packaging and Speciality Plastics), Matt Echols (Vice President, Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainability, Coca-Cola Asia Pacific), and Matt Kovac (Executive Director, Food Industry Asia)
A venture capital fund management company in Singapore has launched a $US100 million plastic pollution fund in an effort to curtail the flow of plastics into the oceans of Asia. The partners of the fund, the Circulate Capital Ocean Fund (CCOF), include some of the largest conglomerates whose product packaging is often seen in coastal cleanups, including The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Danone, Unilever, and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company.
The fund will finance debt and equity financing for regional waste management efforts, and recycling and circular economy startups that are fighting what the fund calls a plastic crisis.
“The good news is that we are able to reduce nearly 50% of the world’s plastic leakage by investing in the waste and recycling sector in Asia, and even more if we invest in innovative materials and technologies,” Rob Kaplan, CEO of Circulate Capital said in a statement released to the media. “This is why we are here in Singapore—a strategic hub of Southeast Asia—to prove that investing in this sector is scalable for the region and can generate competitive returns while moving closer to solving the ocean plastic crisis.”
About 60 percent of marine plastics originate from Southeast Asia, with China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam the top five ocean polluting countries in the world. A large portion of these pollutants can most likely be traced to the conglomerates that are contributing to the fund. They have realized that without efforts from industry, the marine plastic pollution problem cannot be corrected.
“Financing alone cannot solve the ocean plastic crisis,” the fund wrote in its press release. “It requires a full suite of solutions from policy and corporate commitments to financial incentives and changes in CONSUMER BEHAVIOR.”
“For the beverage sector, the more recycled content used in any type of packaging such as 100% recyclable plastics, the lower the carbon footprint. That’s why at Coca-Cola we have invested in Circulate Capital and have committed to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can we produce by 2030. Beverage packaging does not need to become waste. By investing in the waste collection and recycling sector in this critical region, it can become a valuable material used again and again—a step closer towards a circular economy,” said Matt Echols, Vice President, Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainability Coca-Cola Asia Pacific.
Circulate Capital was created in collaboration with Closed Loop Partners and Ocean Conservancy, and our founding investors include PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Danone, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC, the fund wrote.
Plastic particles from box core. Examples of (A) fibers, (B) fragments, (C) film, and (D) spherical particles.
Researchers with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego have released a study that says microscopic plastics off the California coast has doubled every 15 years since the 1940s, and the increase in these marine plastics matches the rise in plastic production worldwide, and with regard to California, has coincided with the rise in California’s coastal population.
“This study shows that our plastic production is being almost perfectly copied in our sedimentary record. Our love of plastic is actually being left behind in our fossil record,” said Scripps microplastics biologist Jennifer Brandon, lead author of the study, “Multidecadal increase in plastic particles in coastal ocean sediments.” The study appears in the journal Science Advances.
“It is bad for the animals that live at the bottom of the ocean: coral reefs, mussels, oysters and so on. But the fact that it is getting into our fossil record is more of an existential question. We all learn in school about the stone age, the bronze age and iron age – is this going to be known as the plastic age?” she said. “It is a scary thing that this is what our generations will be remembered for.”
The researchers analyzed coastal sediment of the Santa Barbara basic for changes in microplastic deposition using a box core that ranged from 1834 to 2009. The sediment was cataloged for plastic and the researchers found a subset off the man made material that was confirmed as plastic polymers using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. This led to the finding that plastic deposition in the ocean doubled every 15 years, from 1945 to 2009.
Most of the plastic that was found during the study were clothing fibers, starting in 1945 and then increasingly exponentially by 2010. They determined that 10 times as much plastic ended up in the Santa Barbara basin than before World War II. After the war, types of plastic discovered included plastic bag materials and plastic particles, in addition to plastic clothing fibers.
Plastics have entered the world’s oceans such a massive scale that scientists have coined the term, “Marine Plastics” to identify these forms of plastics. Now, researchers Ignacio Gestoso, Eva Cacabelos, Patrício Ramalhosa, and João Canning-Clodea of the Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Madeira Island, Portugal and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD, USA, have coined a new term for plastic that encrusts itself onto the ocean’s intertidal coastal rock formations, plasticrust.
“[The crusts] likely originated by the crash of large pieces of plastic against the rocky shore, resulting in plastic crusting the rock in a similar way algae or lichens do,” Gestoso told Earther.
These bits of plastic are most likely encrusting the rocky surfaces of intertidal zones around the world, and the impact of these man made materials on organisms that may be ingesting these plastics is not yet known.
Gestoso’s paper, “Plasticrusts: A new potential threat in the Anthropocene’s rocky shores” is published in the journal Science Direct. The researchers say these plastics present a novel pathway for entrance of plastics into the marine food web, and that plasticrusts are a potential new marine debris category.
“The potential impact that these new ‘plasticrusts’ may have needs to be further explored, as e.g. potential ingestion by intertidal organisms could suppose a new pathway for entrance of plastics into marine food webs,” the researchers wrote in their abstract discussing the new type of marine plastics. “Consequently, its inclusion as a potential new marine debris category in management and monitoring actions should be pondered.”
The impact of these plasticrusts are already having negative effects on the Portugese island of Madeira, where Gestoso says the plasticrusts are slowly replacing natural biological crusts and films on the rocks the intertidal animals such as snails and barnacles adhere to and rely on as a food source. For example, an algae-eating species of winkle sea snail was just as abundant on the plasticrusts as on surfaces that it normally feeds upon, suggesting that the mollusk may be grazing directly on the algae that forms on the plasticrusts, potentially ingesting plastic as it eats plasticrusts.
Clean Our Oceans Project takeaway: It is all about personal responsibility. Make a decision to use less plastic, and recycle the plastic that you do use.
A recent study of mussels living in the oceans off the United Kingdom have found that 100 percent of the popular mollusks found there as well as in supermarkets had microplastics and other man made materials in their systems.
The study, conducted in 2018 by researchers with the University of Hull and the Brunel University London collected the mussels from eight areas around the coastline of the United Kingdom between November 2016 and February 2017, and eight supermarkets representing eight unnamed brands, according to the University of Hull.
100 per cent of samples taken from UK waters and supermarket-bought products contained microplastics or other debris
For every 100g of mussels consumed, it is estimated there are approximately 70 pieces of microplastics
More particles were found in supermarket mussels which had been cooked or frozen, than in the freshly caught mussels.
“It is becoming increasingly evident that global contamination of the marine environment by microplastic is impacting wildlife and its entry into the food chain is providing a pathway for the waste that we dispose of to be returned to us through our diet,” Professor Jeanette Rotchell, of the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Hull said in a news release put out by the university.
“This study provides further evidence of this route of exposure and we now need to understand the possible implications of digesting these very small levels,” Rotchell said. “Continued research will hopefully drive effective human risk assessment. Chances are that these have no implications, but none the less, there is not enough data out there to say there is no risk. We still need to do the studies and show that is the case. There are currently regulation of some contaminants in food, in the long term, regulatory solutions to this problem will also be needed.”
Rotchell noted that in addition to the human consumption of these plastic- laden marine foods, humans are also exposed to plastics via other food sources, drinking water, and airborne plastics, which can be inhaled. She further noted that in addition to plastics found in mussels, other man-made debris such as cotton and rayon are ingested by these filter feeders. “All the conversation is about microplastics, but textiles could also be worth investigation.”
With microplastic and marine plastic pollution prevalent throughout the world’s oceans, mussels and other mollusks in other parts of the world are most likely to contain these man-made materials in their systems. It is a sad reminder of how much plastic pollution has permeated all levels of the world’s marine ecosystems, from planktons all the way up to the whales.
At the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14) of the Basel Convention, governments in attendance acted to restrict what they call rampant plastic waste exports, requiring countries that are exporting contaminated or mixed plastic waste, to receive prior informed consent from the receiving countries. The Basel Convention is a multilateral international agreement that governs all transboundary movements of hazardous waste for recovery or disposal.
The new rule is in response to developed countries offloading their plastic waste to developing countries in Southeast Asia after China stopped importing plastic waste in 2018.
Countries at the conference noted the increase in marine plastics pollution and microplastics pollution in the world’s oceans and the negative impact these man made materials are having on marine biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, local communities and ecosystems around the world. The concerns over hazardous chemicals found in plastics was also discussed.
The plastic wastes actions adopted at the conference include:
Removing or reducing the use of hazardous chemicals in plastics production and at any subsequent stage of their life cycle.
Setting of specific collection targets and obligations for plastics producers to cover the costs of waste management and clean-up.
Preventing and minimizing the generation of plastic waste, including through increasing the durability, reusability and recyclability of plastic products.
Significant reduction of single-use plastic products.
“With this amendment, many developing countries will, for the first time, have information about plastic wastes entering their country and be empowered to refuse plastic waste dumping,” Dr. Sara Brosché, IPEN Science Advisor said in a statement released to the media. “For far too long developed countries like the US and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country. Instead, much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned, or finds its way into the ocean.”
The decision by the UN will have the biggest impact on the United States, because it is not a signatory of the Basel Convention, and the rules prohibit the export of listed wastes from countries that have not ratified the convention.