Australia & New Zealand US Waste Management

Indonesia Sends Back Plastic Waste to New Zealand, US, UK, Belgium and Spain

Indonesia has vowed to send back contaminated plastic waste - in a move some say exposes New Zealand's "dirty secret" of shipping used, low-grade plastic offshore. 

This week, Indonesian officials inspected 2041 shipping containers of used plastic – a quarter (547) contained contaminated waste meaning the contents could not be recycled, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The number of containers from New Zealand is not yet known, but 1 NEWS has been told inquiries have been made.

Australia already had 100 of those containers shipped back, with New Zealand, US, UK, Belgium and Spain included in containers to be returned, currently held in Tangerang Port in West Jakarta, according to the Independent.


Indonesia has become the main destination for used, low-grade plastic destined for recycling, after China in 2018 tipped the recycling world into disarray with an outright ban on imports of most types of plastics, due to high pollution levels and environmental concerns.

In April, a group called the Brantas River Coalition to Stop Imported Plastic Trash called on New Zealand, US, Australia, Canada and the UK to take responsibility to clean up waste illegally dumped along the Brantas River in East Java, according to The Jakarta Post.

It claimed many of the items found were originally made in the five countries, and not available in Indonesia.

Prigi Arisandi of Ecoton Foundation, an Indonesian environmental organisation, has been advocating for plastic recycling imports to stop.

He said New Zealand’s involvement in the latest contaminated waste saga showed a “bad attitude” and was not good for the Indonesian-New Zealand relationship.

Mr Arisandi said law enforcement needed to revoke permits for importing plastic waste and punish or penalise those sending waste to Indonesia.

He said “re-exporting is not enough”, as it was not effective enough to halt the smuggling of waste.

Jessica Desmond of Greenpeace NZ said New Zealand should take it as a “wake up call to how we deal with plastic waste”.

“Most New Zealanders like to feel that we do a good job at recycling… but the dirty secret is we’ve been pushing the problem overseas, pushing it to communities in developing countries that have to deal with our mess.

“We need to take a really serious look at the waste we’re producing.

“It shows there needs to be change, at points all through the waste system,” she said.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage expected New Zealand exporters to abide by the import and export rules of the Indonesian Government.

“It would be a wake up call if there are any containers that come back to New Zealand as to who hasn’t been abiding by the rules.”

Lawyer Tiza Mafira, the director of Diet Kantong Plastik, an international organisation that consults with the Indonesian Government and businesses, told 1 NEWS earlier this year Indonesian import law did not include household recycling from other countries.

She said the rules intended to allow scraps from factories into the country, material that did not make the cut, not post-consumer waste.

“What we’re receiving is not waste that can be recycled. What we’re receiving is waste residue.”

Ms Mafira said in various port cities around Indonesia some of the low-quality, less-valuable imported material ends up in make-shift landfills.

In May, New Zealand signed up to the Basel Convention. The convention was changed to include legally-binding framework that would ensure the global trade in plastic waste was more transparent and better regulated.

However, New Zealand’s latest plastic recycling export figures show there was no slowing down of shipping used plastic offshore.

According to Customs data, New Zealand shipped over 8,300 tonnes of plastic to Indonesia from January 1, 2019 to September 16.

Over 12,000 tonnes was exported to Indonesia for the entirety of 2018.

Malaysia was exported 7,800 tonnes for the 2019 period, and 7,400 for 2018.

In total, 23,098 tonnes was shipped offshore in the 2019 period to Monday this week. In 2018, 31,616 was shipped offshore.

Those found to have exported contaminated waste may be penalised under the Imports and Exports Act.


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Indonesia vows to send back contaminated plastic waste to New Zealand