The Story of the Hazardous and Toxic Waste in Indonesia

By webadmin on 10:55 am Mar 06, 2012
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Fidelis E Satriastanti

The title of a TV talk show last month caught my attention: “Indonesia, Negara Kaya Akan Sampah” (“Indonesia, A Country Rich with Waste”). I wished I could have seen the show, but the bus driver changed the channel to a football match — nothing beats football in this country.

The choice of the title, I assume, was related to Waste Care Day that fell on Feb. 21. Just in case you missed the news, hundreds of containers filled with hazardous and toxic waste were transported into the country in late January. This hazardous waste was said to be the “largest shipment” ever transported into the country. With limited space in the newspaper, it’s hard to find a complete story on the issue. I present you my story until a more thorough account is published:

Customs officials at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta observed white liquid coming out of 113 containers. Documents said the containers contained non-hazardous scrap metal, and officials contacted the Environment Ministry to confirm the contents. On Jan. 28, witnessed by Environment Balthasar Kambuaya, Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo and a flock of journalists, customs officials opened the suspected containers and found scrap metals “accompanied” by asphalt, sand, plastics and white liquid oozing out. The only documentation from the importing company was HHS.

While collecting samples, Balthasar also notified England, the Netherlands, and the Secretariat of the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland. Why Basel? Because, those three countries are parties to the SBC, which regulates hazardous and toxic waste transportation from developed countries to developing countries. In addition, Indonesia also ratified the Basel Ban Amendment, which strictly bans a wide variety of hazardous and toxic waste exports.

The letters, stamped Feb. 9, were sent to Matt Williamson of the UK Environment Agency, the SBC via the International Environment House and Huib van Westen, the Netherlands’ Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate’s senior inspector for the Investigation Service of Hazardous Substances and Products. 

On Feb. 28, Balthasar announced that all 113 containers had tested positive for hazardous and toxic waste contamination. Officials found high concentrations of arsenic (which can cause heart attacks, anemia and brain damage in children) zinc, lead and chromium (which is a carcinogen in high levels).

Masnellyarti Hilman, the ministry’s deputy for hazardous and toxic waste (B3), said that even without the samples, those containers were already positively exposed because of the content of electronic and plastic waste, which are banned according to Indonesian regulations.

With these findings, the Environment Ministry is now seeking legal action, and it has three laws in its arsenal: The 2009 Law on Environmental Management and Protection, the 2008 Law on Waste Management, and the 1995 Customs Law for violating the documents.

I need to emphasize the words of Agus Yulianto, the head of law enforcement and investigation of the Tanjung Priok Customs. He said scrap metal can be imported into Indonesia on the condition of being clean and dry. “If even half or all of them are found to be contaminated by hazardous and toxic waste, then it’s not in accordance with the agreement. They should know better; the regulation is clear,” Agus said.

By Feb. 22, the Environment Ministry had received letters confirming the confiscation of evidence from the North Jakarta court. It is still waiting for a letter to re-export that illegal stuff back where it belongs.

So, are we done? Absolutely not! In fact, this is my favorite part: Customs widened its inspection and targeted an additional 3,446 containers from Tanjung Priok, 130 containers at the Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, 11 containers at the Tanjung Emas port in Semarang and 77 containers at the Belawan port in Medan.

However, it had only asked the Environment Ministry to check 1,271 containers at Tanjung Priok harbor. The results as of Feb. 28 were 399 containers contaminated with B3 waste, 36 containers not contaminated (18 were absolutely clean), 630 containers still under investigation and an additional 206 containers still awaiting a final report.

The additional containers came from all over the world: Senegal, Mauritia, England, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the United States, Russia, Kuwait, Tunisia, and Singapore.

With limited resources, the Environment Ministry had “chosen” 118 containers to be processed for legal action. Those containers belong to the following companies: PKM (63 containers), TWS (10 containers), TIS (29 containers) and GG (16 containers).

I have to admit I am a amazed with the ministry’s bold move, because it has a long list of to-dos: Check hundreds of samples, build a legal case, get containers out of the country without losing evidence, and make sure the containers are not sent to other countries.

So is Indonesia a country rich with waste? If we as a country don’t do anything about it, then yes, we are. I was told that those containers represent lots of money, and economic considerations surpassing values is nothing new here. I think it’s important for the Environment Ministry and Customs to be open about their investigation. But more importantly, the media should present all arguments and let the people decide the case.