Essential Scientific Studies for Smart Decision-Making

Date of publication 21 June 2021

Authors Stephen D.A. Smith, Edgar Bernal

Sources Quantifying mismanaged waste in a small Balinese coastal village: Comparisons of standing stock in different habitats. Volume 202, 2021, 105433, ISSN 0964-5691



[The authors] assessed the standing stock of litter in a coastal Balinese village in terrestrial habitats and on an adjacent beach. Densities ranged from 1 633 items 1 000 m-2 at a local tourist attraction (waterfall) to 8 389 items 1 000 m-2 on the beach. Plastic food packaging (17.2%) and cigarette butts (15.0%) were the most prevalent items: some sites also contained high densities of items that reflected local usage (e.g. fishing line, nets, ropes in the fishing preparation area). High-value plastic items (bottles and drink cups) were uncommon reflecting low usage rates within the village as well as local recycling efforts. There was a mismatch between the proportions of items in terrestrial habitats and beaches indicating differential transport processes (especially for cigarette butts and foamed plastics). These data provide a baseline against which to prioritise, and monitor the success of, future management intervention including the installation of small, plastic recycling machines (Shruders).

TSC Opinion

In 2015, the scientific paper Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean named Indonesia as the second largest contributor of plastic waste in the world, based on 2010 data used to estimate 2025 levels. The ranking is based on an estimation of the plastic waste emitted by coastal population (within 50kms of coastlines) around the world, mainly due to waste mismanagement defined in the paper “as plastics improperly disposed of”.

After receiving this unfortunate title, in 2017, the Indonesian government announced its ambitious National Action Plan on Marine Debris (NAP) , which lists five main pillars to reduce marine plastic by 70% by the year 2025, the five pillars are as follows:
After receiving this unfortunate title, the Indonesian government announced its ambitious National Action Plan on Marine Debris (here National Plan, NP). Five main pillars define the plan, with a target of reducing marine plastic by 70% by 2025, and are:
1. Improving Behavioral Change.
2. Reducing Land-Based Leakage.
3. Reducing Sea-Based Leakage.
4. Reducing Plastics Production and Use.
5. Enhancing Funding Mechanisms, Policy Reform and Law Enforcement.

The article, Quantifying mismanaged waste in a small Balinese coastal village: Comparisons of standing stock in different habitats, contributes to the evidence-based knowledge needed to facilitate understanding of plastic pollution and the actions needed to mitigate the issue for four of the five main pillars of the National Plan. Without quantification or characterization of the type of plastic waste found on terrestrial habitats, which can end up in the ocean through various type of transport, policy makers will not be informed to propose and act on effective interventions against plastic pollution.

The SeaCleaners propose to highlight findings of this study regarding the NP objectives to show how scientific study can inform policies for greater effectiveness.

  1. Reducing Land-Based Leakage
    This article focuses on land-based quantification and characterization of plastic debris from a coastal village, Desa Les, in Bali, with a waterway running near the waste disposal and recycling facility. Recent studies confirmed that one of the major transport pathways for transporting plastic litter to the ocean is through rivers, with an estimation of 1.15 and 2.45 million tons per year, the vast majority coming from 20 rivers, of which five are in Indonesia (Lebreton, 2017). The study was carried out at different sites within the village, including a fishing area and a beach, as well as along road, and a waterfall. The study was conducted in dry season, and more data is needed during wet season due to the waterway acting as a mode of transport for the waste found in the village to the ocean.

    The Results of the Study
    In the village plastic food packaging and cigarette butts where the most common items found (17.2% and 15.0% respectively); of the items found plastics accounted for 64% of overall items found, with densities higher in the fishing area and beach habitat compared to other areas studied; 5 items were present across habitats (cigarette butts, plastic food packaging, plastic film remnants, plastic fragments, and ceremonial items) – the fishing having high densities of fragments of fishing lines/nets and processed timber, while the beach having more foamed plastics and cloth/clothing.

    Impact on Waste Reduction
    Looking at the type of waste found in the different sites studied, we can already see how knowing the type and density of the waste may inform policy and behavioral change in the habits of the population. Indeed, the type and the density of the main items constituting the waste, here cigarette butts and food packaging, reflect usage of the plastic by the population in the areas studied. As a result, physical interventions, like fitting receptacles for cigarette butts, or educational, focusing on a change in the habits regarding food packaging, appear to be natural interventions.

    A Scientific Method Cognizant of its own Limits
    However, the authors note that of the few similar studies on terrestrial environments available very few can be compared due to the lack of standardized methods for such studies. Quantification is therefore not as easy as it seems. A similar point was raised in a very recent paper (Plastic Pollution Research in Indonesia: State of Science and Future Research Directions to Reduce Impacts), where the authors highlighted the issue of a “lack of central coordination [leading to] research output with different goals, methods, and data formats”. Without comparable studies, no order of magnitude can be assessed for different sites; rendering it even more difficult to raise alarms for appropriate policy makers’ reactions or to take effective mitigation measures tailored specifically to the problem.

  2. Improving Behavioral Change


    While industrial production of plastic began in the 50s, gaining popularity among the population and increasing utilization and demand as a common item in everyday use, the ubiquity of plastics is often taken for granted: we are totally dependent of the material from food packaging to high technology used in medical facilities. We do not even see plastics anymore and do not realize where plastics can be found, the fashion field contributing enormously to pollution with microplastic fibers. Nevertheless, despite our “out of sight out of mind” attitude towards plastic, the alarm on plastic waste has sounded and many actions are taken to tackle the problem starting with a change in our behavior towards plastic.

    Findings of the Study
    As such, in 2015, the studied village began some measures to improve waste management with education and recently with an experimental-scale recycling infrastructure consisting of the installation of two portable plastic recycling machines called “Shruders”. Those are used to process primarily polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
    On the items found in the areas studied, the authors retrieved packaged food in ceremonial items, traditional daily offerings.

    Finding the Right Incentive to Trigger Behavior Change towards Plastic.
    As noted above the plastic revolution is not that old but the presence of plastics in the ceremonial offerings constitutes a very rapid unfortunate change of behavior on the part of the population as these were always composed of organic materials with no long-term pollution effect. To succeed in reducing plastic waste we need to change the way we think about plastics. One of the success stories in changing behavior towards plastics in Indonesia is in the Waste Banks system which contributes to the fight against plastic pollution and the rise of the circular economy – some plastics have a value. One of the results of the study is that a common item present in a Balinese household is not in Desa Les: bottled water; indeed, when they are used, they are gathered by collectors who earn a small income from collecting it. The study also led the local government to orient waste collection program through schools for educational purposes as well as awareness raising actions to curb the use of single-use plastics.Other successful actions can also be found in the Indonesia Sustainable Oceans Program, thanks to the creation of a Communications Playbook, guiding effective outreach activities and changing the behavior of Indonesians, or with holding an Impactfluencer Forum highlighting marine pollution and resulting in greater awareness of the issue.

  3. Reducing Plastics Production and Use

    How to Use the Study Data

    Knowing the composition of the waste found in different zones not only makes it possible to highlight the issue at stake, it also offers tangible targets for local actions specific to the items found such as regulations for their waste management, if not production reduction. During the study, the village was waiting to kickstart the use of two portable recycling shruders that would process primarily polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Another clear action resulted from the study was the implementation of “butts bin” to collect the cigarette butts found so predominantly in the village areas studied.

    What about industry?
    The industry is not mentioned in the article as the study does not focus on the production side of plastics. The National Plan mentions it but to only encourage the manufacturers to use recycled materials and the production of biodegradable plastics and it is regrettable that no mention is made on a more precise objective on the source of the problem and the reduction of plastic production.
    As too often observed, the first reaction is to make citizens, reduced to mere consumers, bear the burden of responsibility for plastic pollution by asking them to change their behavior; local governments and communities are not spared either. They are often, as waste receivers, responsible for setting up suitable infrastructure. And what about the actors at the source of the problem? Indeed, what is a change in behavior and waste management measures in the face of ever-growing plastic production? In fact, plastic leaks into the world’s oceans are estimated at 11 million tons per year, with growth estimated to quadruple by 2050. Manufacturers must investigate the problem more seriously and find better alternatives for current single-use plastics, but not only. In addition, better regulations are needed to put an end to “green washing” practices too often used by industry to go into business as usual while using terms such as unregulated biodegradable that mislead people.
    The report published by UNEP National Plastic Waste Reduction Strategic Actions for Indonesia, however, does cite reduction of plastic production as a long-term goal by establishing sustainable plastic production and a sustainable consumer society (Eco-design and sustainable lifestyles). It is a start.

  4. Enhancing Funding Mechanisms, Policy Reform and Law Enforcement
    The National Plan not only aims to reduce marine plastic by 70% by 2025 but it also states that the government would commit US$ 1 Billion per year to do so.

    Study highlights
    Indonesia is not well-equipped in waste management facilities or organized collection services in rural areas, excepting for some touristic destinations. While waste banks facilitate solutions for high value plastic waste, the type found in villages like the one in the study will require tailored solutions provided by regional government, and not local. Investing in waste reduction measures to increase tourism may increase funding that in turn can be used to invest in further waste mitigation and reduction measures.

    What about Policy reform and Law Enforcement?
    While countries like Indonesia are tackling plastic waste problem at a national level, it is well known that once plastics have reached the ocean the issue knows no borders. No single country can succeed in such a struggle on its own, it is a problem that requires everyone’s efforts. Additionally, one origin of plastic waste is the offshoring practice by Western countries until China refused containers, no longer wanting to be the dumping ground for Western countries. Indonesia in its NP is demanding for an international financial pledge or fund raising. Such funds would facilitate more studies such as the one in the article and would be managed through bilateral and regional cooperation.What we need is a legally binding international agreement.
    While Annex VIII of the Basel Convention added certain plastic wastes to the list of hazardous materials for the control of their transboundary movements and disposal, there is no legally binding international agreement governing plastic waste. Many countries and international organizations are demanding it, and the legislative void must be filled by capping the production of plastic at its source for effective reduction of plastic waste. It would help with recognizing the issue as true emergency and open international funding string.For many years, NGOS, world citizens, governments but also industries have been demanding such a treaty and are looking at the United Nations to take on the issue. All eyes are on the first Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, to be hosted by Ecuador, Ghana, Germany and Vietnam on 1–2 September (virtual), which will closely be followed by the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022, and hopefully make progress toward a new global legally binding agreement to tackle plastic pollution.

While we are anxiously hoping for a legally binding treaty to be ratified soon, actors demanding for the treaty, NGOS, world citizens, governments but also some industries, are hard at work in the combat against the plastic downpour. TSC offers concrete solutions for plastic pollution, both on land and at sea, through corrective and preventative missions. Our first campaign is scheduled to start in early 2022 in Indonesia with our Mobula 8, designed to be deployed in calm waters. We will protect the riverine environment by collecting floating and land waste with our local partners; inform the public and policy makers through education initiatives and scientific research, while promoting the transition towards a circular economy.

Upstream and downstream approaches are need now more than ever.

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