It is an alarming fact that nearly 90% of all plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers around the world. After China, Indonesia can boast of some of the most horribly polluted rivers in the world – all clogged with hundreds of tonnes of smelly rubbish.
Authorities in Indonesia (a nation of 260 million) are battling a lack of recycling culture or environmental awareness to try and achieve an ambitious target of a 70 percent cut in marine plastic debris by 2025, despite having devoted $1 billion a year to the task.
For example, the Pisang Batu river that carries along waste from villages upstream is just one of many, thickly carpeted with rubbish formed mostly of plastic waste. Indonesia churns out about 3.2 million tonnes each of plastic waste every year, with nearly half ending up in the sea, a 2015 study in the journal Science showed. The 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, the study notes.
As Java struggles with its rivers, the resort island of Bali this year banned the use of plastic bags by large supermarkets and grocery stores, a measure it aims to widen to smaller shops. Yet that seem to cause a backlash of its own. With people protesting that they didn’t get a plastic bag presented to them whilst shopping, what cultural shift needs to take place before the ordinary citizen on the street understands the problem that they are contributing towards?
Such a risk to marine life was graphically highlighted last November, when a dead sperm whale on a beach was found to have 6 kg (13lb) of plastic waste in its stomach. How many more dead sperm whales need to appear on beaches before people start to realise what is going on, or will it all be too late by then?