Indonesian Islands Are Drowning in Trash

A government clean up operation launched this week near the Indonesian capital has removed more than 40 tons of trash each day.
A man hauls trash at an Indonesian dump.
A man hauls trash at an Indonesian dump. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Indonesian government dispatched over 260 sanitation workers to a string of islands off the coast of Jakarta, the country’s capital, this week to help clear the massive amount of trash that has accumulated throughout the archipelago. So far, over 40 tons of garbage have been collected on the islands each day.

The Thousand Islands are a popular day trip destination from Jakarta for tourists and represent a small fraction of the 17,000 islands that comprise Indonesia. Yusen Hardiman, the head of the region’s environmental department, said the collected trash was largely generated elsewhere and flowed to the islands after being swept up in rivers during the monsoon season, according to Agence France-Presse.


The Thousand Islands (left) off the coast of Jakarta, where Indonesian sanitation officials have collected over 40 tons of trash each day for the past week. Image: Google Maps

While the amount of trash collected by Indonesian sanitation workers this week is astounding, the problem is hardly unique to the Thousand Islands.

Indonesia is the world’s second largest contributor to marine garbage after China and massive trash build ups are a problem throughout the archipelago. Earlier this year the BBC reported that the Indonesian army was dispatched to battle with a huge block of plastic that had clogged a river. Shortly before that, government officials in Bali declared a “garbage emergency” as one of its beaches was overrun with trash.

As detailed in a 2017 article in The Conversation, Indonesia’s plastic problem largely stems from a lack of comprehensive national laws on how plastics are produced and disposed of, as well as a general lack of knowledge about proper waste disposal techniques among its 264 million citizens. Although the country has levied taxes on plastic bags since 2016, so far those efforts have hardly put a dent in Indonesia’s trash output.

Last year Indonesia promised to spend up to $1 billion dollars on efforts to reduce its marine debris by 70 percent by 2025. Part of these funds will go toward collection efforts like those underway on the Thousand Islands, as well as public awareness campaigns.