BEKASI, WEST JAVA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Under the baking West Java sun, Indonesian boys chit-chat on a river bridge — an idyllic scene if not for the masses of plastic waste that fills the surface of the water below.
Pisang Batu is one of the country’s most polluted rivers, according to Bekasi Region’s Department of Environment. Hundreds of tons of rubbish collect there every rainy season because of a dam built downstream, which stops plastic waste flowing from villages upstream to go through.
Between September to March, residents, with the help of garbage trucks assigned by authorities, try to clean up their river.
“We’ve brought an armada of 25 garbage trucks that take three turns every day. But, the reality is, as you’ve seen there, we haven’t cleared even 50 percent of it,” Tarumajaya Village Security Chief Suseno said.
“We’re never tired of it, but the rubbish never stops coming,” villager Marzuki, who has lived in the area for years, said.
As Java struggles with its rivers, the resort island of Bali to its east has taken drastic measures to counter the mounting plastic waste coating its beaches by banning supermarkets from using plastic bags.
Beginning in January 1, 2019, the government of Denpasar, Bali’s capital, banned free plastic bags in large supermarkets and grocery stores, and is planning to spread those measures to smaller stores in the coming years.
But the move is not appreciated by everyone.
“I’ve seen people protest because they didn’t get plastic bags after they shop,” a customer, Thomas Wibowo, said at a grocery store, adding: “If we are suddenly forbidden from using plastic, as Indonesians, we’d be shocked.”
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, is estimated to be the world’s second-largest contributor of plastic pollutants in the oceans after China, according to a 2015 study published in Science journal. The study also reported that almost half of the 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste Indonesia produces in a year ends up in the sea.