Indonesian city outlaws plastic bags as campaigners push for wider bans

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indonesian city’s ban on single-use plastic bags should encourage similar policies by local governments elsewhere in Asia, which is awash in plastic waste, campaigners said on Tuesday.

Bogor, a city of about 1 million people that lies 60 km (37 miles) south of the capital, Jakarta, began to implement the ban on Dec. 1 in shopping centers and supermarkets, with city officials saying that traditional markets would be next.

“Bogor is a good sign of the shift that we want,” Muharram Atha Rasyadi, a Jakarta-based campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia, said by phone.

“We are pushing other city governments to apply this kind of regulation.”

Globally, between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually, according to industry estimates, with fewer than 10 percent recycled and many ending up in the ocean.

Some eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into oceans every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, according to the U.N. Environment Program.

Five Asian countries - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - accounted for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into oceans, according to a 2015 study.

Contributing factors include fast-growing economies and populations, long coastlines with many densely-populated cities, and inadequate waste and recycling infrastructure.

National or local governments in more than 40 countries around the world have imposed bans on single-use plastic bags, including the Philippines, Malaysia, India and China.

But campaigners say local polices have thus far proven most effective, noting that ambitious commitments to limit plastic waste made by central governments - such as India and Thailand - have resulted in little change on the ground.

“At the national level, the process is ongoing, but we never know when these types of regulations will come out so we try to push cities to apply them first,” said Rasyadi.

Indonesia last year launched a national action plan, pledging up to $1 billion to cut ocean waste 70 percent by 2025.

Campaigners said plastic bag bans could help achieve that goal, and that other cities in Indonesia and the region may follow the example of Bogor.

Denpasar, the capital of the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, is due to ban plastic bags in 2019.

“This is great news from Bogor,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic campaign group in Manila.

“This development in Bogor is just the latest leadership initiative we are seeing from local governments across the region to reduce if not eliminate single use plastics,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.