Indonesian gov’t turn to companies to handle plastic waste

The Indonesian government aims to reduce waste by 30 percent by 2030. They turn to the private sector and ask them to do more.

A pile of luggage sitting on top of a bed

Kamibox workers clean labels from PET product packaging waste (Troy Godwin Gunawan)

The blaring horns of passing vehicles, traffic jams, rising dark smoke, and trash strewn along the roadside all appear normal, as if they belong there. Under the scorching sun, a couple of waste workers labored through the day, sorting, and cleaning up the trash among the piles of packaging waste in Cisauk, Tangerang, about an hour away from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Even though they could hear the traffic noise outside the warehouse, they remained focused on the plastic bottles on their hands.

“On a daily basis, only two people work in this warehouse, but if there is a large amount of trash, we usually ask local residents for extra help,” Lie Mangkusatya, the founder and CEO of Kamibox, said recently.

Kamibox is a waste collection and sorting company founded in 2020 and operates out of two locations: Kembangan, West Jakarta, and Cisauk, Tangerang. Under the tagline “We Value Your Waste”, Kamibox accepts seven types of waste in the form of plastic, paper, cardboard, used cooking oil, glass, metal, and electronic waste.

Kamibox’s works are in line with the government-led initiatives focusing on efforts to reduce and manage waste according to Law No. 18/2008 on Waste Management, notably articles 14 and 15 expressly mandate the role and responsibility of producers in Waste Management. This has been further reinforced by the introduction of Minister of Environment and Forestry Regulation No. 75/2019 on the Roadmap of Waste Reduction, also known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). 

The government aims to reduce waste by 30 percent by 2030, and this goal has become the basis for the government to demand the role and responsibility of producers in efforts to reduce and manage waste, as producers are one of the major contributors of waste through the goods and product packaging they produce.

From this point forward, an important question arises: is everyone familiar with the term EPR? Have companies or retailers, which run recycling campaigns for product packaging waste, met their EPR obligations? What about the rest of society? Do they understand the concept of EPR?

The song of David Guetta and Bebe Rexha’s “I’m Good” was clearly heard, as were the crowds of Summarecon Mall Serpong visitors at the time. Watson was no exception; it was packed. Many guests were on their feet, studying the product packaging carefully as they deliberated over which item to purchase. A Watson worker was walking around the front area.

Her name is Meri, (31), and she has worked here for more than a year. She shook her head emphatically and sported a skeptical expression, “EPR? I have just heard about it,” she stated recently. A box drop point for product packaging waste, a more advanced stage of EPR, was visible at the store’s entrance.

Going up one level, you will notice a large, pink-themed store filled with women on that particular day. EPR boxes were available in the center of the Sociolla store, just like at the others. When asked about EPR, one worker responded, ” I don’t know anything about it; all I know is recycling.” 

Graphical user interface, website
A drop point box by Watson (Troy Godwin Gunawan)

Only one of the ten people we questioned about EPR had any idea what it was. This demonstrates how little people in society are aware of the idea of EPR. Understanding of efforts to reduce waste generation is only in the form of a basic recycling concept that is still exclusive. Hence, the recycling concept is limited to sorting, and the waste will still end up in temporary shelters (TPS) or final disposal sites (TPA).

We tried to reach Watson and Sociolla via email and other means for interviews regarding their campaign to support EPR. Nevertheless, neither of these two businesses responded.

A drop point by Sociolla (Adila Firani)




The lack of understanding about EPR can also be attributed to the government’s failure to disseminate information about EPR regulations. The vast bulk of the program focuses solely on waste reduction, such as switching from plastic to stainless straws.

Meanwhile, multinational companies such as Danone, Coca-Cola, and others have joined the Packaging and Recycling Association for Sustainable Environment (PRAISE) and are attempting to fulfil their responsibilities as producers in accordance with the EPR regulation.

The Indonesia Packaging Recovery Organisation (IPRO), which was founded in August 2020, was used to carry out this effort. As an independent and verifiable organisation, IPRO serves as a partner and an extension of their membership (collaborating brands) in order to help realise the responsibility for packaging waste and transform it into valuable recycled products. IPRO started out assisting six major companies, including Coca-Cola, Indofood, Nestlé, Tetra Pak, Danone, and Unilever Indonesia, and over the years it has expanded to include the 14 memberships it has today.


[ – how IPRO works]

In practice, IPRO are also engaged in efforts to drive the local economy, particularly the people who are already in the recycling chain, to establish a sustainable circular economy. IPRO is also responsible for providing data on waste management efforts to central and regional governments.

Diana Sulaiman, the treasurer of the Indonesia Packaging Recovery Organization (IPRO), said recently, “What is actually expected under the Minister of Environment and Forestry Regulation No. 75 is waste collection by brand. In other words, if Danone or Indofood were to withdraw their own products, we would not be able to do the same. We encourage the government to be more transparent because like Danone, which is technologically and operationally prepared, is withdrawing all plastic packaging, regardless of brand, unless it is food-grade,” Diana said.

In accordance with Diana’s statement, Mangku, the founder of Kamibox, stated, “The truth is, the concept of EPR is not completely clear to me, nor do I fully grasp our (Kamibox) position and the extent of our roles in this matter.”

Mangku went on, saying that, “To see the waste collected by each brand [..] it is highly unlikely, because not all brands are aware, and in general, not all of them are prepared.”

A group of people sleeping on the couch
Ready-to-ship waste collection after it was sorted (Tiara Febriani)

Recycling packaging waste is not an easy feat. More than two years after IPRO’s establishment, there are still numerous obstacles to overcome. Danone is among the companies responsible for a substantial amount of packaging waste due to the various brands they produce, with Aqua being a major contributor, according to IPRO.

To fulfil their EPR responsibilities and obligations, Danone and IPRO have recycled all their production waste and packaging waste, as well as packaging waste especially made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) such as packaging waste made from plastic, which is commonly used for packaging drinks, jams, sauces, oils, medicines, and other types of waste such as paper, metal, and packaging boxes.

A bottle of water on a table
A collection of Danone products that have been recycled (Christoper Edrik Owen)

Danone, through its commitment #Bijakberplastik since 2018 with IPRO and Veolia, work together to realise the Inclusive Recycling Indonesia (IRI) initiative, aiming to recycle packaging waste, particularly those made of plastic involving 3R-Based Waste Processing Site (TPS3R) and Integrated Waste Management Sites (TPST).

Beginning with collection, sorting, and cleaning, the recycling process is carried out to create new plastic pellets that can be manufactured into new packaging materials. IRI also aims to enhance the welfare of the surrounding community, particularly the scavengers and collectors who have always been involved in the process of waste recycling.

From 2018 until 2022, IRI operated with the support of 3 TPS3R, 1 TPST, and 10 collection centers in 14 Regencies/Cities. Two of the successful TPSTs established were located in East Java, namely TPST Sampahku Tanggung Jawabku (Samtaku), which had a 60-ton-per-day capacity, and in Bali, through the Bali Waste Cycle.

But as Diana pointed out, not all manufacturers have met their EPR responsibilities. Mangku joined us for our visit to the Kamibox warehouse in Cisauk that afternoon. Two paper shredders, a press machine, a weighing machine, and a vehicle for transporting goods to the car to be sent to the recycling company can all fit inside without crowding the place out too much.

The most abundant waste in the warehouse was cardboard and plastic packaging, including piles of gallon packaging belonging to a company that were ready to be sent to recycling parties.

“If packaging waste is collected by the brand, of course there won’t be piles of it. Up until now, no brand has come to collect their product packaging waste,” Mangku said.

Kamibox’s duty is complete once the packaging waste is delivered to the recycling party according to its type. “We are not yet capable to do our own recycling, as we are operationally independent, so it will undoubtedly incur extra costs,” he explained.

As an independent company, Mangku said that acquiring waste was currently his greatest challenge. 

“All waste is a pain to deal with; however, if paper waste ends up soiled by water, it can no longer be recycled because it has become contaminated with other materials. Many people remain indifferent [about waste sorting],” Mangku said. 

This occurs due to a lack of understanding about the concept of recycling; and there is still much work to be done and errors to be corrected by all parties involved, including the public at large, in order to expand the definition of recycling into a broader and more responsible process.

The Tangerang Environmental Agency did not respond to our queries.

Diana emphasised that IPRO is currently not only focused on being a home for producers (companies) to conduct EPR but also to work towards Extended Stakeholders Responsibility (ESR). 

“To develop a comprehensive system that is sustainable and accountable; from upstream to downstream, for all the involved human resources; that’s extremely challenging because not everyone is invested in the process and not everyone desires change,” Diana said when asked about the current biggest obstacle in achieving the goals.