A nationwide conflict in Indonesia about the construction of incinerators has been ongoing for over a decade. Despite the Supreme Court ruling against the construction of incinerators, the Indonesian government is currently planning the construction of multiple incinerators in 7 different cities; Jakarta, Tangerang, Bandung, Surakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and Semarang . With a growing problem of urban waste management in Indonesia’s major cities, and with landfills reaching their capacity, the Indonesian government has tried to accelerate the construction of incinerators. National environmental organizations, local residents and activists, especially in the city of Bandung, are responding and resisting to this process, arguing that the government’s promotions threaten the right to environmental health . Besides the potential environmental dangers, the construction of incinerators in Bandung and other cities in Indonesia will have fatal consequences for the 'Pemulung' or wastepickers in the country. An estimated 2 million wastepickers in Indonesia engage in collecting and recycling plastics, metal and cardbord and they play a crucial role in municipal solid waste management where they contribute to a large trade in recycling of waste products . If the incinerators in Bandung get constructed, the livelihoods of the wastepickers in the city are at risk, as they will lose access to their source of income, yet they have not been consulted in any decision-making of the waste management.
Tensions between officials and activists around the construction of incinerators in Indonesia began in 2007. Local organizations held a public forum against a waste incineration project in Bandung province, West Java, to explain the dangers of waste incinerators after the local administration had officialized a plan to build the first incinerator in Bandung . The event gathered around 2000 community members . At this gathering, 5 activists were arrested by police officers by “speaking in public without permission”, according to the GMA News . The two Indonesian activists were released shortly after, while three activists from the Philippines, America, and India respectively were detained for several days.
The three activists that got detained were on their way to the 13th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali but took a side trip to Bandung province to join the residents in opposing the incinerator project. The activists were advocating for “zero waste, zero warming", and spoke at the protest action to raise public awareness on the negative impact of waste incineration, particularly on health, the environment and the climate . They were held by the police until the UN Conference was over and did not get to present at the conference. After three days of detention, they were all deported from Indonesia . The NGO Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) opposed this action, arguing that they were “unrightfully expelled” from Indonesia .
In 2015, the Indonesian government proposed a Presidential Regulation, also known as a Perpress, on the speeding up of waste management through the development of incinerators, and the regulation was part of a national strategy to overcome the waste crisis in the cities . The incineration facilities would at the same time generate electricity to power the big cities of Indonesia. The proposal to speed up the construction of incinerators was met with strong resistance from several national environmental and waste interest NGOs, including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), BaliFokus, Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (Ecoton), Greenpeace Indonesia, KRuHA and Gita Pertiwi . In June 2016, the NGOs filed a petition for review to the Supreme Court, demanding a judicial review into the Presidential Regulation and ultimately for it to be revoked . The civic groups stated that they were concerned about health and environmental issues related to incinerators, because of the exhaust gas from that they feared would contain hazardous substances. BaliFokus’ Senior Advisor, Yuyun Ismawati outlined that: “In the end, because Indonesia’s waste generally has high moisture content, it is impossible to burn it in compliance with the technical requirements without adding fossil fuel and drying the waste - which is a waste of energy, waste of money.”. Furthermore, Yuyun Ismawati emphasized that: “The Decree has been enacted without conducting the studies we recommended, and without any public consultation process” .
Based on the requests from the civil groups, the Presidential Regulation on waste management was revoked by the Supreme Court in 2016. The victory of the court ruling did not last long as local administrations in the seven cities continued to proceed the acceleration of the plans to build, despite the ruling that voided the legal basis of the policy of constructing incinerators .
On March 5, 2018, a rally against the construction of incinerators took place on the sidelines of the 2018 International Zero Waste Cities Conference in Bandung, West Java . Members of the NGO Walhi displayed posters with “NO BURN, NO INCINERATION” and “REJECT INCINERATOR!!”, conveying their concerns on the potential impact of incinerators on human health and the environment. Walhi West Java director Dadan Ramdan called on the West Java administration to cancel its plans to operate Legok Nangka, an incinerator-based trash disposal site, and to construct disposal sites using similar incinerator technology in Bogor, Cirebon, Indramayu and other places in West Java. Dadan explained to The Jakarta Post that: "With the revocation of the Perpres, the development of incinerator technology in Indonesia has been prohibited. The plan for central and local administrations to tackle waste using incinerator technology is wrong and has no legal basis” .
In December 2018, Rida Mualyana from the Ministry of Energy confirmed that the power generation project would continue, and stated that the program is part of Indonesia’s commitment to tackling climate change as agreed at the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015 . The Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) is already finishing the construction of the first incinerator in North Jakarta, constructed by Finnish company Fortum and Indonesian company PT Jakarta Propertindo, and the Jakarta administration has planned to develop similar facilities in four other locations in the city of Jakarta. As per March 2019, the British company Plastic Energy has announced its $200 million investment in the waste-to-energy construction in West Java, a region home to 50 million people . Kirk Evans, Plastic Energy’s government relations in Indonesia, said the company is planning to build five waste-to-fuel plants costing $40 million each across West Java. Each plant is expected to process 70 tons of low-grade plastic waste per day, such as plastic bags and wrappers, and convert it to fuel .
Environmental organizations continue to demand the law to be obeyed and urge the government to stop the construction of waste-to-energy plants . “The Supreme Court ruling clearly says that thermal technology is forbidden because it contravenes the laws. The government’s move is dangerous,” the ICEL’s executive director Henri Subagio says in the newspaper Tempo .