Filling Waterways with Water Bottles The issue of plastic pollution and potable water in Jakarta

The province of Jakarta is an ever-growing urban jungle confronting a serious plastic pollution problem. A key contributing factor to this issue appears to be the city’s universal lack of access to safe, potable water.

With groups from all socio-economic backgrounds unable to drink the tap water available, Jakarta's residents have developed a strong reliance on plastic bottles.

High-density commercial and residential spaces, as well as societal norms surrounding waste disposal further add to the immense volume of plastic entering waterways, roads and paths.

Plastic waste and rubbish are a common sight along Jakarta's roadside.

Suhaimah Irbah, an Indonesian university student, says bottled water is a daily necessity for all residents, even those with secure housing.

“Even in houses you have to buy a bottle of water because the water in your home is not good enough to drink, so you just buy it in the supermarket.”

Suhaimah says habit and convenience also lead many people to opt for single use plastic bottles.

“We use lots of plastic because it’s our culture maybe…we use plastic for daily activities like to put our food (in), to put our drink (in)...”

“Because it’s easy to find first and it’s cheap and we don’t usually bring bottled water from our home…so we just buy it from supermarkets.”

The Beverage Marketing Corporation reported that in 2015, Indonesia had the fourth highest consumption of bottled water, using an estimated 6.815 billion gallons in that one year with an annual growth rate of 12.2%.

Indomaret is an Indonesian chain of convenience stores selling its own brand of bottled water in addition to other popular choices, such as Aqua and Nestle.

Mukhamad Imron, an employee of the Cikini Jakarta store, says plastic water bottles are one of the store's best-selling items.

Mr Imron says he estimates 300 bottles of various sizes would be sold each day in his store alone.

After these plastic items are used, however, many are discarded into waterways, roads and pedestrian paths, either directly or through poor waste management.

Waste collection is performed by individuals, government divisions and other groups throughout Jakarta.

Walking along Jakarta's streets, mounds of plastic waste are found heaped beside river bends and homes, and bottles can be seen floating down canals like fish.

Worldwide, Indonesia now sits as the second largest source of marine pollution worldwide behind China, according to numerous studies including a 2015 report by journal 'Science'.

The Pasukan Oranye, or Orange Troop as they are known, are a division created by the government to help maintain streets and public areas of Jakarta by cleaning plastic and performing other maintenance work.

Mr Ibrahim, a worker for the Pasukan Oranye division, says he finds three kilograms of plastic bags and four kilograms of plastic water bottles on the street in Cikini, Jakarta every day.

Mr Ibrahim works as part of this division and has the responsibility of cleaning the geographical zone spanning from Cikini station to the end of the Jalan Cikini road. Every day he follows this stretch of road collecting waste – primarily plastic bags, wrappers and bottles.

Standing beside the roadside in the bright orange shirt his division is known, for Mr Ibrahim says “from Cikini Station to Cikini Raya we get … 4 kilograms of plastic bottles a day.”

“That’s just one day,” he said.

Mr Ibrahim cleans the road and collects plastic waste in Cikini Jakarta as part of the Pasukan Oranye division.

Yet, the Pasukan Oranye is not the only group collecting plastics from the streets. The Pemulung, for example, are known to gather plastic for recycling and earnings. Therefore, it can be assumed the total plastic bottle pollution could rest higher.

Recently, Indonesia made a commitment at the United Nations Ocean Conference to reduce their level of marine plastic pollution 70% by 2025.

Certain recycling initiatives have been put in place throughout Jakarta, such as recycling bins.

Previous efforts to enact change on this front have not been successful, such as the short-lived plastic bag tax. And, whilst there is still a lack of potable water, the culture of bottled water in Jakarta seems to be deeply embedded into the community.


Chloe Mabb

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