Your Trash is Drowning Us: Imported Waste from Australia and Japan Worsens the Environment in East Java

Massa Aksi Melakukan Longmarch Menuju Konjen Australia (Doc.Ecoton)
Waste from Australia and Japan enters East Java and serves as raw material for more than 15 paper recycling factories in the Brantas River Basin area. According to investigations by the Ecological Observation and Wetland Conservations (Ecoton), these giant paper recycling industries dispose of waste without treatment, as seen in companies like PT Tjiwi Kimia, Tbk, PT Mekabox International, PT Megasurya Eratama, contributing to microplastic pollution like PT Pakerin and PT Adiprima Suraprinta. The pollution doesn’t stop here; paper mills also become sources of dioxin pollution in the air because they allow their plastic and paper scrap to be used as fuel, as seen in PT Megarsurya Eratama and PT Adiprima Suraprinta. Weak monitoring from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) makes these industries a disaster for the environment in East Java. The suppliers of raw materials for paper mills mostly use imported waste from countries in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, and Japan. Importing countries of paper must immediately stop sending plastic and paper waste to East Java.

Surabaya (June 11) – A group of environmental activists staged a theatrical protest titled “Your Trash is Drowning Us” in front of the Australian and Japanese consulates in Surabaya. This collaborative action involved 20 participants from Ecoton, students from Universitas Airlangga, Universitas Tujuh Belas Agustus Surabaya, Universitas Islam Negeri Surabaya, Universitas Batanghari Jambi and the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute (LBH Surabaya). The theatrical protest was a call from the youth urging the governments of Australia and Japan to stop sending plastic waste to Indonesia, as it has worsened the environment in East Java.

The theatrical performance depicted scenes showing the harmful impacts of plastic waste on the environment and people’s lives. The participants rode bicycles to the Australian Consulate General and then proceeded to the Japanese Consulate General, carrying samples of imported plastic waste and mannequins that were submerged in piles of trash.

“Every month, thousands of tons of plastic waste from Australia and Japan enter Indonesia. This waste is not properly managed, leading to severe pollution and health hazards. This theatrical protest illustrates how humans are exposed to plastic and are drowning in plastic toxins, which have detrimental effects on life,” said the protest coordinator, Alaika Rahmatullah.

Australia and Japan Actively Send Plastic Waste to Indonesia

Activist Demonstrate in Front of the Japanese Consulate (Doc. Ecoton)

Indonesia imported 22,333 tons of plastic waste from Australia between 2023-2024, an increase of 27.9% from the previous year’s 16,100 tons (UN Comtrade, 2024). The volume of plastic waste imported from Australia has fluctuated, with Australia actively sending waste since 1988. A 2024 report from Basel Action Network indicates that Australia has been sending approximately 1,600 tons of plastic waste to Indonesia monthly, equivalent to 10 TEU shipping containers per day.

Meanwhile, Indonesia imports an average of 1,500 tons of waste per month from Japan (UN Comtrade, 2024). Statistical data reveal that Japan sent 12,460 tons in 2023, an increase of 14.37% from 10,670 tons in 2022. The import of plastic waste from Japan and Australia significantly contributes to environmental pollution in East Java.

Recycling Industry Unable to Process Imported Waste

The plastic waste imported from Australia and Japan, mainly ethylene types (HDPE and LDPE) and PET, poses a serious threat to the environment in East Java. The increase in the volume of plastic waste imports from these two countries has resulted in significant pollution in several areas, including Pagak district in Malang, Gedangrowo village in Sidoarjo, Bangun village, and Tanjangrono village in Mojokerto.

A 2024 Ecoton study revealed that recycled plastic, particularly high-density polyethylene (HDPE), in East Java contains 346 hazardous chemicals. Among these hazardous chemicals, 30 were found at high concentrations in each sample.

According to Ecoton researcher Rafika Aprilianti, the toxic compounds present in plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine systems of organisms, both human and animal. This can lead to disruptions in normal hormonal functions, reproductive development issues, and an increased risk of serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions.

Furthermore, Rafika emphasized that the recycling industry in East Java is far from reaching its optimal capacity. Evidence shows that recycling releases substantial carbon emissions because plastics are made from petroleum and contain highly toxic chemical additives that can poison ecosystems in Indonesia.

Protesters Demonstrate in Front of the Japanese Consulate
Activists conducted a long march on H.Dr.ir. Soekarno Street in Surabaya towards the Australian Consulate General (Doc. Ecoton).

Bringing Catastrophe to the Environment

Ecoton’s investigation into this imported waste ends up in tofu, cracker, and sausage manufacturing plants. Research in late 2023 found that water, air, and tofu in the Tropodo area, which uses imported plastic scrap in its production process, tested positive for microplastic contamination, with 56 particles per 5 grams.

Burned imported waste can release highly dangerous dioxins into the air, and plastic incineration can also release microplastics. Ecoton’s 2023 research revealed that the air in several places in East Java is exposed to microplastics, with public areas having 14.04 particles per 2 hours, incinerators 10.5 particles per 2 hours, industries 225.33 particles per 2 hours, open furnaces 12.5 particles per 2 hours, and open burning 30 particles per 2 hours.

Additionally, there is ecosystem damage in rivers due to microplastics, with one contributor being the paper industry as a gateway for imported waste in Indonesia. The Nusantara River Expedition team’s 2022 study revealed that East Java province is the top contributor to microplastic contamination in the Brantas River, with 636 particles per 100 liters.

“Our records in the Brantas River show 2,566 plastic trees and 2,475 piles of illegal waste during our river surveys throughout 2022. In 2024, sachet waste has contributed the most to plastic pollution in rivers, accounting for 65% of contamination, not to mention the issue of imported waste, which we also found to contain a lot of sachets,” said Alaika Rahmatullah, Ecoton’s brand audit coordinator.

Indonesia to the World: Stop Dumping Plastic Waste on Us

In a landscape already critical due to the increasingly massive waste shipments, Indonesia only allows the import of well-sorted used goods not exceeding 2% of the total volume. Each container must be inspected before shipment, but current supervision is starting to slacken.

Prigi Arisandi, M.Si., founder of Ecoton, stated, “Although Indonesia has started to control its imports, this unclear global network of used goods trade remains a cat-and-mouse game that keeps changing. When one country sets up a barrier, countries with waste often look for other places to send it.”

“Indonesia must immediately tighten regulations on the import of plastic waste and increase domestic waste processing capacity,” he added.

Activists hope this action will raise public awareness and urge the government to take concrete steps to address the plastic waste problem. This group of activists plans to write letters to other embassies, urging them to:

  1. Confirm their commitment to addressing and taking responsibility for solving the problem of imported waste in East Java.
  2. Ban the shipment of plastic waste HS 391530 because it is PVC plastic that cannot be recycled and can release dioxins when heated and burned.
  3. Clean up their waste at dumpsites or locations where the imported waste is disposed of.
  4. Coordinate with the Indonesian government to provide incinerators to tofu factory owners in Tropodo.
  5. Lead as responsible developed countries in managing their waste and stop plastic pollution colonization in developing countries.

Australia and Japan must stop sending plastic waste for recycling, as plastic recycling is not being done safely and endangers the environment and the health of surrounding communities.

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