Indonesia follows Malaysia and the Philippines, starts sending back illegally imported waste

Following in the footsteps of Malaysia and the Philippines, Indonesia is the latest southeast Asian nation to signal its intent to send back illegal plastic waste imports to rich nations.

Since China's banning of waste imports in 2018, much of Southeast Asia has become a dumping ground for illegal plastic imports from rich nations like Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada. In Indonesia, waste imports have increased 141% in the last year, according to the Indonesian National Statistics Agency. In total, Indonesia imported 283,000 tons of plastic in 2018.

Indonesian Minister of Environment and Foresty, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, recently said that Indonesia will reject plastic waste imported illegally into the nation.

"We already have the regulation, so we will re-export," she said.

According to the Environment and Forestry ministry, Indonesia has previously re-exported illegal waste in 2015 and 2016.

Indonesia, like other Southeast Asian nations, only has the capacity to recycle 9 to 10 percent of its plastic waste, with the rest of it ending up in landfills, burnt as a very toxic and polluting fuel, or ends up in the nations water systems and eventually into the ocean.

Prigi Arisandi, a documentary filmmaker and founder of a local environmental NGO, Ecoton, has been working to encourage the Indonesian government to send back illegally imported waste swiftly, in a similar fashion to Malaysian and Filipino actions.

"The garbage collectors usually burn the plastic in an open field, like I showed in the documentary. It’s very dangerous for the environment and health because burning plastic can produce dangerous gas."

China's plastic waste ban has unearthed a massive problem with the global recycling system, and it needs to be fixed. Single-use plastics in particular are proving to be a huge problem for ecosystems around the world, especially our oceans. 

Developed nations in particular have to improve their capacity to recycle waste within their own nations, and curb companies exporting waste illegally, especially to developing nations. 


Climate change, increasing plastic waste and greenhouse gas emissions affects everyone, and Southeast Asia is one of the regions most affected. Keeping our environment safe and secure is integral to the future. MoveAsia focuses on the impact of climate change, what the region can do to tackle the climate crisis, and through the Ursus Project, we take a look at how we can tackle the burgeoning problem of plastic waste around the region, and its impact on our oceans and waterways.