Indonesian Government eyes ways to reduce plastic waste on northern Australian beaches
The Indonesian Government is eyeing off new ways to help prevent tonnes of plastic waste washing up on the remote shores of Northern Australia.
- Indonesian Consul has travelled to remote NT where he raised the issue of Asian plastic waste washing up on the region’s beaches
- Officials in Indonesia ‘very defensive’ over rubbish accusations, according to Consul
- Marine debris team applauds Indonesian visit, says it could signal the beginning of a solution to the rubbish issue
One of Australia’s top placed Indonesian diplomats, Dicky Soerjanatamihardja, has made a landmark trip to East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, to look at ways to improve the long-standing relationship between the two neighbours.
The Yolngu of East Arnhem Land and Indonesia’s Makassar had a trading relationship as far back as the 1600s, predating European settlement.
While in Nhulunbuy this week, Mr Soerjanatamihardja raised the problem of Asian plastic waste washing onto the region’s beaches, which has been an ongoing scourge for Indigenous rangers and environmentalists.
Earlier this year, reports revealed the continued crisis of trash on East Arnhem shores — thousands of discarded bottles, thongs, buoys, nets and canisters, strewn across what were once some of the planet’s most pristine beaches.
Researchers have estimated up to one tonne of waste has been washing up per kilometre of beach, much of it originating from Indonesia and other neighbouring South-East Asian nations.
Mr Soerjanatamihardja, the NT’s Consul and Head of Post for Indonesia, said government officials were now working to better the problem.
“I have brought the issues to our government in Indonesia,” he said.
“I talked to some of the closest areas to the Northern Territory, like the government of Maluku … and they also say they that it might be possible … to give more education about how to manage the non-biodegradable waste, like plastic bottles.”
Education a key in ongoing battle
Some of the Indonesians he’d raised the issue with had been “very defensive” in their reactions, Mr Soerjanatamihardja said.
Consul Dicky Soerjanatamihardja (left) presents an Indonesian Consulate trophy to acting East Arnhem Council CEO Barry Bonthuys. (Supplied: Agung Prabowo)
But he said neighbouring provincial governments were “fully aware about the issues” and were facing the same problems “because of plastic bottles coming from other parts of Thailand or other parts of Indonesia”.
Indonesia is one of the world’s worst ocean plastic polluters, second only to China.
Researchers have said they believed much of the waste washing up in the remote NT has been jettisoned from fishing vessels operating in the underregulated waters of the Arafura Sea, where thousands of boats trawl daily.
Mr Soerjanatamihardja said education was key to curbing the issue in Indonesia.
“The most important thing is we need to give more education to our children, and of course our future generations, and this generation, to start to manage our waste, especially the non-biodegradable waste like plastics.”
Multi-pronged response needed to tackle waste
The consul’s visit to the NT was lauded by some of those on the ground helping to clean the waste.
Kylie Tune, the founder of the Cleaning Up Cape Arnhem group, said seeing Indonesian officials taking notice of the region’s issue “could mean the beginning of some change”.
“A lot of people feel perhaps angry at Indonesia and other countries for not disposing of their rubbish properly, but they don’t have access to the same disposal of rubbish that we have,” Ms Tune said.
She agreed that educating those responsible was a big part of the challenge, but said the Indonesian Government also had to look at ways to better manage their rubbish.
“When you’re down on the beaches, clearly a lot of [waste] is from boats, there’s no question, but there’s also a lot of domestic debris as well … so it’s a mixed response that’s needed to different groups in Asia,” she said.
“Education is really, really important, but if you don’t have a mechanism for removing your rubbish from your house or your shop or your industry, you’re in trouble.
“So there’s lots of things that need attention.”
Mr Soerjanatamihardja also heard from local leaders about how else the two regions could continue to improve ties, from business to artistic trades and bolstering the Indonesian community.
It is understood the Consul didn’t have the time to travel to Cape Arnhem or meet with the Dhimurru rangers – the Indigenous organisation which manages the rubbish affected beaches – on this trip, but planned to return to the region in February or March to do so.