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publication May 20, 2021

Plastic Waste Discharges from Rivers and Coastlines in Indonesia



  • Indonesia is battling one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time—marine plastic debris. To support the Government of Indonesia’s efforts on combating plastic waste and marine debris and its leadership in implementing the agenda, a better understanding regarding the current state of this challenge is needed.
  • The Plastic Waste Discharges from Rivers and Coastlines in Indonesia report provides the first Indonesia-wide assessment integrating local waste data with actual hydrological conditions to tell the story of how local waste management practices contribute to marine plastic pollution.
  • The report synthesizes waste records from more than 500 municipal and provincial areas across the archipelago—including annual rainfall, topography and river flow data—and models the movement of plastic waste from land-based sources into the marine environment.

Key Findings:

  • Uncollected waste contributes more to plastic waste discharges than leakages from final disposal sites, and very little plastic is recycled.
    • Indonesia generates approximately 7.8 million tons of plastic waste annually.
    • 4.9 million tons of plastic waste is mismanaged—e.g. uncollected, disposed of in open dumpsites or leaked from improperly managed landfills.
  • Rural areas generate the largest amounts (two-thirds) of mismanaged plastic waste (MPW) due to very limited waste collection rates.
  • Limited collection services and access to disposal infrastructure hinders improvement in waste handling behaviors.
    • Direct disposal in water is the main pathway of plastic waste reaching rivers, often resulting from populations not having access to waste collection services.
    • An estimated 346.5 kton/year (estimated range of 201.1 – 552.3 kton/year) of plastic waste is discharged into the marine environment from land-based sources in Indonesia, two thirds of which come from Java and Sumatra.
  • Rivers carry and discharge 83% of the annual plastic debris that leaks into the marine environment from land-based sources, while only 17% is directly discarded or washed-off from coastal areas.


Policy recommendations to combat plastic waste and marine debris include:

  • Strengthen solid waste management practices, knowledge and incentives in rural areas, in addition to ongoing improvements in urban areas.
    • Improve overall waste collection coverage (“closing the tap”) and provide better access to solid waste management facilities, particularly in rural areas.
    • Increase national sanitation campaigns at the household level, particularly in rural areas, to enhance community understanding of healthy waste behaviors and reduce the household practice of disposing waste directly into waterways.
  • Invest in new, well-managed final disposal sites and upgrade existing sites, including those near waterways.
  • Optimize the use of existing structures in waterways and drainage to prevent plastic waste from reaching the sea.
  • Promote a circular economy to reduce plastics consumption and prevent plastic pollution.
    • Prevention should start at source and even at an earlier life-cycle stage, considering reduction of critical single-use plastic items and design for reuse, recovery and recycling of plastic waste, which can have many other social, economic and environmental benefits.
    • Cost-effective, impactful policy instruments such as taxes and incentives should be implemented.
  • Systematically monitor and improve waste data.