Indonesia wants to reach net-zero plastic pollution by 2040. Do you have a big idea to help them do it?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Nour Chaabane, Operations Lead, Global Plastic Action Partnership, World Economic Forum & Hidayah Hamzah, Manager, Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership, World Resources Institute Indonesia


  • Indonesia generates around 6.8 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, but much of it is not disposed of properly.
  • But by 2040 it hopes to achieve zero plastic pollution through shifting to a circular economy.
  • The informal waste sector gathers up around 1 million tonnes of plastic waste, most of which is recycled, but their contribution needs greater recognition.
  • A collaboration between the Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP), Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator (OPPA) and UpLink hopes to address that and other issues around supply chains and technology.

Made up of more than 17,500 islands, and 108,000 kilometres of coastlines, the waters around Indonesia are a treasure trove of marine biodiversity. Those very same waters, like all oceans, are threatened by plastic pollution.

Every year, Indonesia generates around 6.8 million tonnes of plastic waste, 61% of which is not collected and disposed of safely. If nothing is done to tackle the problem of plastic waste facing Indonesia, there could be a 30% rise in how much of it ends up in the nation’s coastal and inland waterways.

But Indonesia has an ambitious plan to reduce marine plastic leakage by 70% by 2025, as well as achieve near-zero plastic pollution by 2040 through transitioning to a circular economy for plastics. Indonesia NPAP has established an innovation task force to encourage innovators to put forward their solutions to address plastic waste in the country and support the government’s ambitious goals.

graphs showing that urgent action is needed to turn the tide on plastic pollution in Indonesia.
Urgent action is needed to turn the tide on plastic pollution in Indonesia. Image: World Economic Forum/Indonesian National Plastic Action Partnership

Turning the tide on waste

Tackling the challenge of plastic pollution in Indonesia, like many other places in the world, is going to require a collaborative effort from the public, private and civil society sectors. It will also require new ways of problem-solving, innovative solutions, and digital tools as well as cultivating a supportive innovation ecosystem for those solutions to thrive.

All of which are at the heart of the Informal Plastic Collection Innovation Challenge, a collaboration between the Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) and UpLink, which is actively seeking businesses and organizations to come together and work on the issue effectively.

The Innovation Challenge is one of the priority actions outlined in the NPAP Innovation Roadmap to encourage and drive new solutions to tackle plastic pollution in Indonesia. The roadmap was developed by the Indonesia NPAP Innovation Task Force consisting of 35 organizations across government, private sectors, solutions providers and research institutions.

The Innovation Roadmap sets a path to support the creation of new solutions for plastic waste reduction. Five questions guide its work:

  • What would encourage and drive new R&D?
  • How can we understand and validate what innovations are working?
  • How can we provide more technical support to innovators?
  • How can we help successful innovations access financing to achieve scale?
  • How can we bring innovations to market more quickly?

The need for collaboration was described by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, in the country’s multi-stakeholder action plan, published in partnership with the World Economic Forum in April 2020.

“Indonesia will be choosing not what is easy, but what is right,” he said. “Rather than staying with a ‘business as usual’ approach, we will be embracing a sweeping, full-system-change approach to combating plastic waste and pollution, one that we hope will spark greater collaboration and commitment from others on the global stage.” Plastic

What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1352208328332603393&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2021%2F03%2Findonesia-innovation-challenge-plastic-pollution%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=e1ffbdb%3A1614796141937&width=550px

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

NPAP Indonesia and UpLink are calling for organizations to solve the issues of how to create better supply chains within waste management, increase the recognition of waste workers, and give them access to digital skills and knowledge.

The challenge is offering finalists selected applicants to the scheme opportunities to have their ideas for tackling waste fast-tracked into development. In addition to financial aid, there will be training and workshops, mentorships, and chances to network and pitch to with influential sector stakeholders.

Waste economy opportunities

As part of that full-system-change, the innovation challenge is focusing on the people who work in the waste collection and recycling sector.

Each year, the combined efforts of the informal waste industry gather up around one million tonnes of plastic waste. Approximately 70% (700,000 tonnes) of that is recycled. The rest, typically, is lost as a result of poor processes for collection, storage and transportation of the waste.

But, the informal sector’s contribution to preventing plastic pollution has largely gone unrecognized and waste pickers often work for low pay in unsafe conditions, says the NPAP.

Far from being a lowly job, waste collection can turn into a profitable enterprise and provide an economic lifeline to people who might otherwise have limited opportunities ahead of them.

Improving pay and working conditions will be an important part of supporting the informal economy’s contribution to tackling waste.

Besides increasing recognition of these workers, NPAP and UpLink are calling for solutions to access to social services and to promote collaboration in waste management value chains. https://www.youtube.com/embed/_Le5Q48srUc?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

Smarter supply chains

Supply chains were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and this happened as much in local waste and recycling sectors as it did across global trade routes. Recycling facilities that had to shut down, even just temporarily, led to waste being sent to landfill. This is just one reason why it is important to develop more robust, flexible supply chains to help fend off disruption in the future.

For Indonesia’s plastic waste in particular, there is work yet to be done on segmenting and analyzing the materials being sorted. Including developing traceability systems that track plastic as it enters and leaves the collection sector. Breaking the marketing down by plastic type could help develop specializations around the requirements of handling different materials.

Indonesia informal waste collectors would also benefit from higher demand for recycled materials, and an increase in the amount of long-term plastic off-take agreements between large buyers of plastic feedstock and waste collection entities. In parallel, consumer goods companies and other private sector actors in the value chain would benefit from a reliable and fully traceable recyled plastic feedstock that would guarantee ethical sourcing.

A role for technology

As with any market, collecting plastic waste can only be economically viable if buyers and sellers can find each other, and agree on the best prices, quickly and easily. In an informal setting this often comes down to the simple act of transporting a load of plastic to a buyer, in person. As operations and ambitions grow, however, these informal networks of contacts may not be robust enough.

Technology platforms can bring buyers and sellers together across larger areas, can make it easier to find the best prices, and help create a level of certainty around agreements, bargains, and contract arrangements.

It could make it easier for smaller, independent businesses to stay up-to-date on rules and regulations around waste or workforce safety. It could also make it easier to enforce those rules, by ensuring relevant information is always being pushed out to those who need it.

But there are digital skills gaps among the informal workers. The Informal Plastic Collection Innovation Challenge is calling for solutions to improving the digital literacy of informal waste workers, as well as increasing the available data about informal waste collection activities and the level of knowledge about waste-related innovation opportunities among entrepreneurs.

The Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership and UpLink are partnering with the Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator, a social innovation ecosystem builder powered by The Incubation Network and funded by The Circulate Initiative and Global Affairs Canada, to launch the Informal Collection Challenge.

Take action and submit your idea for a more inclusive and effective plastic waste collection in Indonesia. Find out more here.

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