Plastic pollution in Bandung, Indonesia has reached critical levels; government officials say they are in a “battle” they cannot win
05/16/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

The Indonesian city of Bandung is facing a foe that local government officials fear they cannot overcome: Plastic trash. In a BBC report, army units have been sent to the city to clean up a veritable berg of garbage that clogged an important waterway.

Armed with nets, the soldiers scooped up all kinds of plastics from the water. Even as they gathered the trash, an endless stream of garbage arrived from upstream and piled up faster than they could remove them.

Army commanders like Sergeant Sugito called plastic rubbish their biggest enemy. Despite being new to the unusual mission, Sugito did note that certain valuable plastics like cartons and drinking bottles could still be reused or recycled. (Related: What is being done to limit the 8 million metric tons of plastic that escapes into the world’s oceans each year?)

Dr. Anang Sudarna of the West Java Environmental Protection Agency directly appealed to Indonesian President Joko Widodo for the assistance of the army. Sudarna believed that his drastic move finally made a dent in Bandung's plastic problem.

"The result is a little bit improved… But I am angry, I am sad, I am trying to think how best to solve this... The most difficult thing is the people's attitude and the political will," said Sudarna.

Official and unofficial plastic recycling efforts are underway in Bandung

Bandung is the third biggest city in Indonesia. Like the rest of the country and much of Southeast Asia, it has been trying to cope with a rapidly-growing population and a similarly sharp increase in disposable plastics.


Aside from calling in the army to clean up Bandung, local officials have been implementing "eco-village" initiatives throughout the city. Locals are paid small amounts of money to turn over their old plastic garbage to recycling projects, where workers will sort out the trash according to the value of their polymer materials.

Officials hope that the initiative will make people aware of the value of plastic and the ongoing waste crisis. Some residents are already aware that plastic commands a fairly high price.

At the lone landfill that serves Bandung, hundreds of scavengers are scouring mounds of rubbish for plastic products like bottles that they can sell to recycling facilities. It's a dangerous and dirty way of making a living, but they are able to support their families with the money they earn.

Environmental activists like Mohamad Bijaksana Junerosano of Greeneration said the plastic problem can only be resolved by a coordinated effort between educators, law enforcers, and members of society.

The fight against plastic pollution never ends

Indonesian authorities are also changing their minds regarding their country's plastic pollution problem. Dutch environmental researcher Professor Ad Ragas compared the reception for his latest plastic pollution workshop to those from earlier events.

Two years ago, Bandung's officials did not consider plastic pollution to be a serious concern. Now, they're all eyes and ears for ways to reduce or eliminate it.

Ragas said social media accounted for this change of mind. Shocking images of garbage-choked waterways spread very quickly among people, who then petitioned their elected officials to do something about the problem.

Yet even as Indonesians are making progress with regards to plastic pollution, they also tend to regress. The soldiers who cleaned up the clogged tributary in Bandung expected trucks that would take away the trash they collected.

But the transports never arrived, and they couldn't leave the plastic trash on the ground. So they were forced to shove everything back into the river, where another unit downstream would hopefully take care of it.

Find out ways to help protect your local river from plastics and other forms of pollution at

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