Indonesia-Australia Marine Trash Diplomacy

Indonesia and Australia need to seriously start to take action to protect our environment together. One issue that needs to be critically addressed is the marine trash problem. Indonesia, with its massive population, produces 64 million tons of trash annually; 1,3 million tons of waste washes out to the ocean and some end up stranded in Australia’s coastline. This has the  potential to cause conflict and tension in the future. According to Mr Efansjah the Senior Advisor to the  Indonesian Minister of Environment, “the biggest threat after terrorism is garbage.” This is not such a surprise, especially after studying about how our ocean is filled with plastic trash debris, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patcha soupy collection of marine debris consisting mostly of plastics. The trash washed out into the ocean has gathered into the gyre – “a major spiral of ocean-circling currents” – forming an artificial ’island-vortex’. One is in the Indian Ocean Gyre, just South of Indonesia, and the other one is in the South Pacific Gyre, in the East of Australia. We must not neglect this.

The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2017 – held in Bali last February – revealed the troubling truth about how our unhealthy living habits on earth are causing catastrophic harm to the ocean. Attended by high-level stakeholders in the global economy, appointed government representatives from across the globe, and – unfortunately – some unprecedented NGO and environment activist,  issues about the health of our ocean and the financing of it (read Blue Economy) were the core discussions throughout the summit.

The United Nation also expressed their concern via their website from their News Center site saying, ”there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic bottles” – Yes, plastic trash, was one of main courses served on the table of Ocean World Summit 2017.  It was the most-talked about issue of the Summit, of which Indonesia has agreed to critically address.

The outcome of this summit was ’another’ hashtag campaign #CleanSeas – which urged the government to pass plastic reduction policies, targets industries to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products, and urges people to change their own habit. Despite the summit itself being held in a luxurious resort in Nusa Dua, Bali, on a private beach that is free from marine trash – Indonesia has pledged to allocate $1bn to mitigate marine trash issue, and yet serious implementation or proof of action seems to be non-existent.

I have been helping IDEP Foundation to develop a fundraising campaign and proposal to gain support on implementing pilot project of smart waste management program in small islands in Indonesia since last year. We believe that there is a critical need to address the issue about marine trash in the marine area between Indonesia and Australia. We have been collaborating with the Boomerang Alliance – an Australian  umbrella organization of collective community groups around the nation that actively discusses about marine trash issue impacting the Australian coastline. The organization has shared their concern about the amount of trash being stranded  on the Australian coastline, such as Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentaria. According to the data they have shared, 90% of the trash came from Indonesia’s plastic products!

Essentially, trash issue is critically threatening, and data has recorded that Indonesian trash and littering habit may cause bilateral environmental disputes with Australia.  Actions and direct waste management projects need to happen.

While Jokowi mentioned on his visit to Australia that there will be 10 new ’Bali’ as the future tourism destination, we need to carefully think of how to prevent this initiative from replicating the depleting environmental condition in Bali itself – water crisis by overconsumption, huge trash and waste management issues, unsustainable agricultural practices to cater food supply, critically neglecting domestic food justice.

Trash diplomacy between two countries should be a part of the bilateral relationship development plan in the near future, aside from counter-terrorism, foreign investment, and cultural exchange.  The marine trash issue needs to have a better collaborative plans. Both countries need to work together to mitigate this problem for the sake of cleaner and healthier seas, islands and coral reefs in both Australia and Indonesia.

Doni Marmer is a junior facilitator for permaculture and resource development for IDEP Foundation, a local NGO working on inclusive conservation and disaster risk reduction in Indonesia. He was a delegate to CAUSINDY 2016 and is now campaigning to kickstart a pilot project on smart waste management system in small islands across Indonesia #CleanIslandsHealtySeas and urgently need your support. Find out more at the IDEP website.

Photo: Marine Trash Celebs join a workshop session of #CleanSeas in The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2017 Nusa Dua, Bali – February 2017 (source)