The piles of plastic waste swallowing villages in Indonesia | 7.30

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Jul 12, 2019


The piles of plastic waste swallowing villages in Indonesia | 7.30
The piles of plastic waste swallowing villages in Indonesia | 7.30 thumb The piles of plastic waste swallowing villages in Indonesia | 7.30 thumb The piles of plastic waste swallowing villages in Indonesia | 7.30 thumb


  • About an hour from Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya, the village of Bangun is being
  • swallowed by plastic waste.
  • In the front yards of homes on almost every
  • spare piece of land, piles and piles of garbage - sent here from all over the world including Australia.
  • Brought in by recycling companies which pay
  • the people of Bangun to help sort it.
  • Walking around it doesn't take long for the
  • Aussie brands to just sort of pop up out of the rubbish. They're so familiar and you just
  • can't help but think of everyone back home carefully separating their garbage, only for
  • it to end up here. It's just bizarre.
  • For the children of Bangun, it is just another place to play.
  • For their parents, it's a livelihood.
  • We're doing this for our children, to pay for their schools, to pay for all kinds of
  • expenses. The people here depend on this recycling business.
  • Supiyati has been sorting waste for eight years.
  • I found a gold tooth once. I sold it for $80!
  • She now employs four pickers who are paid
  • around $4 a day.
  • At regular intervals, trucks from the nearby
  • pulp and paper factory come to tip their loads.
  • Bangun's pickers get to work separating the
  • plastics. Whatever can be sold for recycling is tied
  • up in bundles and taken away. Anything considered worthless is brought to
  • the banks of the river and set alight.
  • We're exporting a bit more than four million
  • tonnes a year, on average and about 20 per cent of that is going to Indonesia at the moment.
  • Dr Joe Pickin uses customs data to track Australian recycling.
  • He says for years it has been cheaper for Australia to send it off-shore.
  • We've had a bonanza. Recycling has been so cheap. They have been paying us for our recycling
  • so well that it has been a bonanza for us financially, but now we have got to cope with
  • it, we'll have to pay a bit more. We are going to have to sort it more.
  • We are, in effect, exporting pollution.
  • Segung was born in Bangun and today is one
  • of the few people here not involved in the recycling trade.
  • He fishes well out of town these days, but wants to show us the spot where he used to
  • throw his nets.
  • Well, we've just arrived at this lake that
  • Pak Segung used to swim in as a kid and it just stinks, a really acrid smell that gets
  • stuck in the back of your throat. It is just no good at all.
  • Segung says the run-off from the factory which processes recycled paper has killed his
  • childhood playground.
  • When I was a boy, the water was clean in this
  • area. We could swim, play with our friends, it was all nature, but no one can play in
  • the river anymore because the water is polluted from the paper factories.
  • He believes all that plastic is making the town sick.
  • I can't tell you for sure if they actually died because of the pollution, but many of
  • my friends died young. The people in the cities of Solo and Yogyakarta,
  • they die of old age, but not here.
  • Microplastic is very dangerous for our body.
  • This is domestic waste because you can find a lot of the kind of plastic.
  • All the people of Surabaya drink from this river so there will be inside our body, our
  • blood. It has become a carcinogenic matter for us.
  • Since China closed the door on all imported waste, throwing the world's recyclers into
  • chaos, more and more plastic is being smuggled here among of shipments of paper.
  • So these businesses in China were talking all this stuff, they were sorting it out,
  • the residual waste management was poor, there was lots of pollution to do with this process
  • and although the businesses want it, the government has just said no, we don't want this anymore.
  • That sent it to other countries and now those other countries, they are starting to close
  • the doors as well.
  • Now, Indonesia has had enough.
  • This week, customs officers rejected 210 tonnes of Australian paper waste which was contaminated
  • with plastic, electronics, dirty nappies and other materials.
  • All eight containers are being sent back to Australia.
  • I think in the end, the appropriate response is to say, "Okay, well, sorry about that,"
  • and we have to start cleaning it up on shore. It is not sustainable. They don't want it
  • anymore. The writing is on the wall, even though it is still happening, we've got to
  • fix it up. So, has the whole world.
  • Very few we spoke to here want the rivers of recycled waste to stop.
  • Picking plastic, they believe, is their only shot at a better life for their kids.
  • It's important that my children don't end up like their parents. That's all I want.

Download subtitle


When Indonesia announced it was returning eight shipping containers of Australian waste, it was an example of the failings of the global recycling system.

Earlier this year, China slammed its door on foreign waste, and other countries are following suit.

Now here in Australia, a lot of people are questioning what to put into their recycling bins and where it might end up.

Indonesia correspondent David Lipson reports.

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