JAKARTA: Wet market vendor Miasih, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, lamented that life is hard these days.
Since COVID-19 broke out in Indonesian capital Jakarta four months ago, she has been commuting using bajajs (auto rickshaws) instead of e-hailing bikes to minimise the risk of getting infected even though it is more costly.
Now, she has to comply with a new regulation which bans single-use plastic bags at traditional markets, supermarkets and retailers in Jakarta, which came into effect on Wednesday (Jul 1).
While plastic bags with handles are prohibited, disposable plastic bags for meat and fish are still allowed. Despite so, the 60-year-old chicken vendor in South Jakarta said the ban has affected her sales.
“Some buyers were confused about the ban, and decided not to buy my chicken as they did not have recyclable bags with them,” she told CNA, adding that she could not offer an alternative.
Fish seller Nawawi, who has a stall at a South Jakarta wet market, has similar concerns.
While he understands that the regulation is meant to save the environment, he said small traders like him are left to bear the brunt of the ban.
The 45-year-old said it would mean extra costs for him if he were to provide alternatives for his customers.
Jakarta’s Governor Anies Baswedan said on Wednesday that the ban is part of the administration’s commitment to transform the city into an environmentally friendly capital.
Instead of using single-use plastic bags, citizens are encouraged to use eco-friendly bags made of materials such as leaf, paper, cloth, polyester and its derivatives, as well as recycled materials.
"So this is part of our efforts in Jakarta to ensure that our city is becoming increasingly friendly to the environment. And activities in the community are activities that leave no residue that cannot be recycled.
“When residue cannot be recycled, it causes problems not only for our generation but also for future generations. We need to change our behaviour so that everyone and every activity in Jakarta takes sustainable development into account,” he said on the first day of the ban.
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The government pointed out that a landfill in Bantargebang, which is located in neighbouring city Bekasi, is almost full and dominated by plastic. Majority of waste in this landfill is produced by Jakarta residents.
To ensure compliance to the plastic bag ban, violators will first be issued a written warning, and then fined between 5 million rupiah (US$350) and 25 million rupiah.
Errant traders' business permits could also be revoked.
A GREAT FIRST STEP: ENVIRONMENTALISTS
With the ban, the Jakarta government aimed to reduce the city’s plastic waste by 50 per cent.
While applauding the move, head of Greenpeace Indonesia Leonard Simanjuntak said he remained cautious about its success.
“While it will reduce the amount of plastic waste in Jakarta, which stands at around 14 per cent of the total 7,500 tonnes per day, it may be a bit too optimistic to think that it will automatically reduce the plastic waste by 50 per cent as the Jakarta government has stated.
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“Plastic bags constitute only less than 10 per cent of plastic waste, according to some research. Styrofoam may constitute more than 50 per cent of plastic waste, and yet there's no ban on Styrofoam,” he said.
Ms Tiza Mafira, executive director of Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement, said a 2018 study estimated that 300 million plastic bags were used annually in modern retail stores in Jakarta.
"That is the estimated number of bags we hope to save," she said, adding that the ban was a great significant step for Jakarta.
Reusables are safe to use with proper care, Ms Mafira said.
“In fact in other cities with a similar ban, the demand for reusables has created a new economy for local crafts,” she said, referring to woven bags and baskets.
BAN MAY LEAD TO JOB LOSS: PLASTIC MANUFACTURERS
Plastic manufacturers, who are opponents of the plastic bag ban, said the city's problem lies in its waste management system and not the plastic product.
Indonesian Association of Olefin, Aromatic and Plastic Industry secretary-general Fajar Budiyono said if Jakarta wants to become an environmentally friendly city, it should improve its waste management system.
An outright ban of single-use plastic bags would only lead to economic problems, he said.
“Plastic bag producers employ around 200,000 people nationwide, and about 30 per cent of them work in Jakarta.
“The ban could eventually lead to the retrenchment of workers,” Mr Budiyono said.
Those who would also be affected by the ban included scavengers and the recycling industry, he added.
Mr Budiyono said as long as there is no better solution, especially one that is more economically viable, people would continue to use plastic bags.
Environmentalists also acknowledged that the new regulation may simply lead to new behaviour and habits that are not necessarily environmentally friendly.
Housewife Dora Mandera, 44, admitted that since her local supermarket stopped giving out single-use plastic bags, she has been using plastic trash bags when she goes shopping.
“Because we still need plastic to throw our garbage, to line our garbage bin so the bin won’t get dirty,” she said, adding that many garbage collectors refuse to collect trash if it is not in a plastic bag.
Despite the pushback, Mr Baswedan, the governor, is determined to carry on with the ban.
“We will enforce this … (and) proactively supervise the society.
“We hope that with this regulation we can make Jakarta environmentally friendlier,” he said.