Casting a global net to solve the plastic problem

By Melissa LyneMarch 1st, 2022

CSIRO is working with Indonesia and other regional partners where COVID has exacerbated the plastic pollution issue.
photo of waterway in Indonesia with lots of rubbish and the same area in the background cleaned up

Tackling plastic waste in Indonesia has made headway but challenges still exist

Plastic pollution knows no borders. Bags, bottles, cups, straws, cutlery, containers, pens, packaging; plastic is central to our daily lives. It’s convenient, it’s reliable and it’s cheap. It’s also highly disposable. And we all know it’s a growing global problem, across land and water. 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year.

The Indo-Pacific region accounts for around 60 per cent of the planet’s mismanaged marine plastic waste. CSIRO is collaborating with Australia’s Indo-Pacific partners to tackle the issue through the launch of the Plastics Innovation Hub Indonesia.

Regional partnerships with local benefits

Amelia Fyfield is CSIRO’s Counsellor for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. She builds long-term institutional relationships and multi-disciplinary programs of work with Australia’s regional partners. Ms Fyfield is currently working to end plastic waste in the Indo-Pacific region, with the launch of the Plastics Innovation Hub Indonesia. The Hub is a new initiative through CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste (EPW) Mission.

“These partnerships share crucial knowledge and approaches while combining resources and efforts to tackle plastic pollution with social, cultural and environmental sensitivity,” Ms Fyfield said.

The Plastics Innovation Hub Indonesia is one mechanism for identifying regional-based solutions, best practices and a pipeline of priority projects.

The Hub is curated by CSIRO in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology and with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It brings together researchers, start-ups, NGOs, investors, industry and government to design, develop and scale-up solutions for plastic waste.

Plastic pollution in Indonesia

Achmad Adhitya, from the Kedaireka program of the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology, says the country has implemented many initiatives to reduce this over the years. However, many challenges still exist. He adds that the COVID-19 pandemic shifted priorities to the point it exacerbated the plastics problem. But he is confident the hub’s focus on cooperation will help boost public awareness and get new technologies off the ground.

“The Hub gives us a better facilitation between our governments, industries and Indonesia’s 4,700 universities,” he said.

“The programs will position research and education at the heart of tackling issues. This hasn’t really been done before. We’ve seen many initiatives to tackle plastic waste but had little involvement with the universities.”

The Plastic Innovation Hub Indonesia will address plastic waste through innovation to protect the environment and its economy

Mr Adhitya recalls meeting a university lecturer who lives mid-island with a warehouse full of plastic. He converts the plastic into biodiesel using a machine he created himself.

“We would like to facilitate scaling up initiatives such as this,” Mr Adhitya said. “By including our universities, we can focus on innovations for many people to use which will effectively tackle plastic waste.”

It will benefit our broader region, too. Mismanaged plastic waste in the Indo-Pacific region has key implications for its economies, security and environments.

“Working with our neighbours to address plastic pollution at its source is strategically important for our region,” he said.

Impacts to fisheries

Major marine ecosystem changes that happen because of plastic accumulation have the potential to threaten fishing industries. This includes the smothering of key food sources and the build-up of toxic chemicals through ingestion.

“Southern bluefin tuna (SBT) and the related tropical tuna species are of major economic significance for both Australia and Indonesia,” Ms Fyfield said.

“SBT are fish that only hatch in the tropical waters off Java and Bali, before migrating down the Western Australian coast. They are commercially harvested in both countries and are of vital economic importance to our region.”

“There is a clear economic rationale for coastal states such as Australia and Indonesia to work collaboratively to minimise plastic leakage into the environment to help mitigate the impacts key fish species.”

Impacts to tourism and the environment

Protecting coastal environments is also crucial.

Plastic waste threatens the region’s incredible marine biodiversity and damages the aesthetic value of coastal areas. Plastic debris injures and kills hundreds of marine species through ingestion, suffocation and entanglement. Floating plastics can also transport invasive marine species. This further threatens marine biodiversity and the food web.

This in turn can negatively impact people’s physical and psychological wellbeing and discourage tourism, a key industry for local communities in both Australia and Indonesia.

two people doing a beach clean up on a beach in Bali

Plastic waste threatens the region’s coastal areas and its tourism industry

Towards 2030 and a circular plastic economy

CSIRO is partnering with other countries in the region too. The India-Australia Circular Economy of Plastics initiative will develop projects to build recycling capabilities. India is one of the world’s leading producers of plastic and one of the largest generators of un-managed plastic waste leaching into terrestrial and marine ecosystems. It also has an economy and culture that repairs, re-uses and recycles its resources too.

A young female vendor sells plastic cans for carrying holy water at a market around the river Ganga, India.

Plastic cans are used to take holy water from the Ganges River. These are sold in the market around the river. Plastics and other pollution regularly mix with offerings of flowers in the sacred River in India.

CSIRO will also be working with the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam to deliver the Plastics Innovation Hub Vietnam later this year, supported by the Aus4Innovation program.

Ms Fyfield says it’s clear that cooperation is the key to tackling plastic waste.

“The need to accelerate regional collaboration was a key theme that emerged from a virtual East Asia Summit Workshop on Marine Plastic Debris co-hosted earlier this month by the Governments of India, Singapore and Australia,” Ms Fyfield said.

The event was co-organised by CSIRO, India’s National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR) and Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA). It brought together world-leading experts across government, industry, science and innovation. Together, they investigated the magnitude of the challenge in the Indo-Pacific. The workshop highlighted best practice solutions, policies and innovations. It also identified further opportunities for regional collaboration.

A mission to deliver change

Ms Fyfield says the EPW Mission not only connects local communities, governments, business and investors—but links in the trusted scientific expertise of CSIRO research.

“We will see action-based projects, producing information, tools, technologies and processes to affect real-world change,” Ms Fyfield said.

Mr Adhitya says there are many benefits in partnering with CSIRO and learning about new technologies. But mainly, “we can start piloting new innovations and accelerate our own targets to reduce plastic waste.”

The Plastics Innovation Hub Indonesia welcomes engagement with Indonesian, Australian and international innovators, donors, businesses, investors and NGOs to address the issue of marine plastics.

 

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