Pollution is a major challenge in Indonesia. According to the 2019 Pollution and Health Metrics report from the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), Indonesia ranks as the country with the fourth-highest number of premature pollution-related deaths per year in the world .
Virtually all of Indonesia’s population live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the World Health Organization's (WHO) guideline for concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is amongst the top three greatest threats to human health in Indonesia, reducing life expectancy by almost 1.2 years, relative to what it would have been if the WHO guideline (5 µg/m³) had been met. Air pollution in Indonesia’s urban areas is severe and getting worse. In and around the city of Jakarta, residents are expected to on average lose 2.4 years of life expectancy relative to if the air quality complied with the WHO guideline . In June 2022, readings for PM2.5 in Jakarta reached as high as 148 μg/m3, according to air quality monitoring by the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) .
Additionally, the majority of Indonesia’s population is exposed to water pollution . Unfortunately, the extent of the harm caused by water pollution in Indonesia is unknown as up to three-quarters of the population live in areas where water quality is not monitored. However, where water is tested, about 85% of the population are exposed to fecal coliform pollution in water sources, according to a report by the World Bank. Further, more than half of Indonesia’s rivers are heavily polluted, and two of the country’s major river systems are among the most polluted in the world. Water pollution can have significant impacts on health, including acute illnesses such as diarrhea and chronic diseases such as cancer and other degenerative diseases, organ damage, embryo defects, and stunting .
Solid waste management (SWM) is becoming a major challenge in Indonesia . In 2017, Indonesia’s population of 250 million generated around 65.8 million tons of solid waste, of which 6.8 million tons were plastic waste. Higher levels of waste generation are generally seen in more urbanized and higher income areas. According to a 2019 study, Indonesia’s urban areas produce around 105,000 tons of solid waste daily, and this number is expected to increase by 45% over the next 12 years, meaning that urban areas will generate 150,000 tons of waste per day by 2031. Currently, only about 39% of urban solid waste is collected in Indonesia, which leaves around 40% of existing urban households without access to waste collection services. There also continues to be a lack of environmentally sound options for waste disposal throughout the country. In the absence of sufficient SWM infrastructure and services, Indonesians in both urban and rural areas have no choice but to dispose of waste in ways that are harmful to the environment. As such, open dumping and burning of waste are common practices across the country . These practices lead to air, water, and soil pollution, and pose significant risk to public health and hygiene.
Mismanaged waste that is dumped on land, including plastic waste, can be washed by rainfall runoff processes into rivers and other water bodies and subsequently transported to the sea. Approximately 0.34–0.71 million tons per year of mismanaged plastic waste is estimated to end up in Indonesian rivers. Just over 70% of this waste is directly dumped into waterways, as opposed to being washed off from land, although the extent of this practice varies across the country, depending on both behavioural aspects and waste collection rates. After accounting for retention in rivers and behind dams, it is estimated that around half of the mismanaged plastic waste in rivers is transported to the marine environment (0.17– 0.45 million tons per year) . Marine debris (including non-plastic debris, although plastic products make up the majority of marine debris) is estimated to cost Indonesia roughly USD 459 million in direct costs to fishing/aquaculture, shipping and tourism industries .
Indonesia has one of the highest levels of air pollution in Southeast Asia . Major causes of particulate pollution include emissions from vehicles and coal-fired power plants . In Jakarta, the transport sector contributes between 30 and 40% of total particulate matter (PM) emissions . Other sources of air pollution include peatland fires, road dust, open burning, and biomass burning for cooking and heating .
On the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, forest and peatland fires, often set illegally to clear land for agricultural plantations, create annual haze events. Though fire intensity and hotspots vary across time, the recurrence of fires in these areas each year means that residents are exposed to a high long-term average pollution concentration .
The main sources of water pollution in Indonesia include untreated municipal wastewater, industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and mismanaged solid waste. Deforestation and palm oil expansion are further deteriorating water quality .
Increased domestic consumption coupled with higher growth of the manufacturing and service sectors has led to higher waste generation in the country. Due to current waste collection, transportation and disposal practices, much of this waste is left uncollected and there is extensive leakage of plastic waste in water and wastewater, ultimately leading to marine litter and plastic pollution . As the world’s largest island nation, Indonesia faces unique waste management challenges. The country has decentralized populations, steady population growth, and limited established governmental and structural frameworks to enable their waste management systems to keep pace with current trends and reduce generation of ocean-bound plastics .
Key policies and governance approach
Indonesia has passed several laws for the control and management of air pollution in the country . Included is the Environment Management Act 41/1999 which mandates the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and periodically monitor air quality and analyse the results , . Indonesia has also put in place various regulations and fiscal policies for air quality management including fuel taxes, support for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers, odd-even congestion charging, and public transport subsidies for low-income households . To date, much of the focus has been on the transportation sector. For example, in 2017, the Government of Indonesia required that all gasoline-fueled vehicles adopt Euro-4 fuel standards by September 2018. Euro-4 is an internationally recognized fuel standard that was initially adopted by the EU, which demands the use of high-quality, cleaner fuels with a sulfur content that is no higher than 50 parts per million (ppm). This is ten times more stringent than the Euro-2 fuel standards that had previously been used in Indonesia. Additionally, the Government of Indonesia has also stepped up its efforts to combat air pollution from peat and forest fires, including through the establishment of the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) .
Concerning water pollution, the most important regulation on water quality control in Indonesia is the Government Regulation No. 82/2001 on Management of Water Quality and Control over Water Pollution , which establishes the framework for implementation of water pollution control, including aspects of prevention, protection, and recovery .
The most prominent law impacting Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Indonesia is the Waste Management Act (No. 18/2008), which established the foundation for improvements to the country’s SWM system . The Act makes it illegal to operate open dump sites. Since this Law was created, there have been many waste management laws and regulation rules introduced at national, regional, and city levels, with some specifically addressing plastic pollution . This includes Government Regulation No. 81/2012 which addressed management of household and household-like waste; Ministerial Decree No. 13/2012 on Guidelines for Implementation of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle through Waste Bank; Ministerial Decree No. 59/2016 establishing leachate standards; Ministerial Decree No. 70/2016 establishing emission standards for incineration of Solid Waste; and Presidential Decree No.97/2017 on National Policy & Strategy on Management of Household Waste and Household-Like Waste (JAKSTRANAS), which sets the targets of 30% waste reduction and 70% waste handling by 2025 , .
In 2017, the Indonesian Ocean Policy and Indonesia’s Plan of Action on Marine Plastic Debris 2017-2025 were developed. Indonesia’s National Action Plan on Marine Debris sets the goal of reducing marine debris leakage by 70% by 2025 relative to business as usual, using five pillars of action: (i) improving behavioral change, (ii) reducing land-based leakage, (iii) reducing sea-based leakage, (iv) reducing plastics production and use, and (v) enhancing funding mechanisms, policy reform, and law enforcement , .
Successes and remaining challenges
Although many regulations have been put in place for air quality management at the national and municipal levels in Indonesia, many challenges exist in their implementation . Challenges include limited monitoring and reporting capacities; a need for better delineation of institutional responsibilities; and a lack of credible incentives for low-emission vehicles and clean technologies , . Thus, there are strong arguments in favour of updating and adjusting some of these regulations to establish a stronger legislative basis for more stringent air pollution control . At the same time, carefully designed fiscal policy instruments could be used to tackle air pollution and adverse health impacts from the transport sector. Complementary measures are also required to address the remaining challenges including a robust pollution reporting system incorporating warning mechanisms when concentrations exceed guideline values .
In addressing the challenge of water pollution, Indonesia is facing issues related to the limited availability of technology, financial resources, and capacity . One such issue is that water quality monitoring data is often insufficient, low coverage, low quality, and not consolidated , . As a result, the true extent of the harm caused by water pollution in Indonesia is unknown. Although there are more than 1,600 monitoring stations in the country, less than 30% of the population live within a 5 km radius of a monitoring station. Additionally, the stations are predominately located in urban areas, thus the exposure to pollution for rural areas - including those affected by industrial parks, mines, and agriculture - is less known. Pollution from mining, industry and palm oil processing plants can be very harmful to human health, however, their impacts are localised and without stations close to hotspots, it is difficult to discern the impacts from aggregated water quality data .
Further, even where water quality is monitored, capacities to correctly analyse data are low, available data are incomplete, and the selection of measured surface water quality parameters does not allow for an analysis on the impact of industrial and mining activities on water quality. While pollution is increasing and becoming more complex, the overall number of parameters sampled have been reduced from 66 in 2015 to just 29 in 2019—and relevant parameters such as mercury and various heavy metals have been taken out. This occurred as the responsibility to sample water quality was transferred from provincial governments to MoEF in 2018; due to a lack of capacity, the total number of monitored parameters was reduced. Other relevant water quality parameters, such as all banned B3 and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are not measured. Institutional capacity to sample is also low  and most data is collected manually, which can lead to data quality issues and delays in compiling data . In fact, the analysis for the same sample in different institutions has been found to differ from one to another .
To address solid waste management, national and subnational laws have been passed that assign many agencies the responsibility of policy implementation and enforcement. However, enforcement needs to be significantly strengthened . For instance, enforcement of regulations within the local governments is largely absent due to a lack of sufficient funding and high recurrent expenditures associated with collection and landfill maintenance . Moreover, recycling in Indonesia largely remains an informal sector activity with the informal waste collectors not regulated and their welfare not guaranteed, and formal recycling systems capturing less than 5% of the waste generated in the country. If the informal sector can be properly recognized and well compensated, they can largely contribute to the waste collection, recycling capacity and the overall policy execution .
Initiatives and Development Plans
In 2021, the non-governmental organisations (NGO) Nexus3 Foundation from Indonesia and Arnika from the Czech Republic launched a new project aiming to fight industrial pollution in Indonesia. The goal of the three-year project (2021-2024), which is co-funded by the European Union (EU), is to establish an NGO network for pollution monitoring in the country and thereby boost the role of civil society in preventing toxic pollution and its impact on human health. The experts from this project see the possible solution in the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR), which is already used in Europe, as a tool for Indonesia to address pollution .
Indonesia’s Waste Bank Program is one of the efforts made by the government to overcome the problem of solid waste, which involves the establishment of waste banks in communities across the country. The Waste Bank Program has been implemented in various regions of Indonesia and has been proven to contribute to the improvement of environmental quality . A reported 11,330 waste banks exist across the country, which enable community members a location to deposit their recyclable waste for a reward (either cash or products – gold has also been used). In this scheme, individuals get to “bank” the value of the waste they deliver. The deposited materials are then sold to scrap dealers (pengepul) for processing. In Indonesia, the private sector has also supported waste banks. For example, Unilever has provided resources to some waste banks. The Indonesian government has also reportedly endorsed the waste bank concept as “currently the best way of dealing with waste across the country” .
Indonesia has been actively involved in several global efforts to address plastic pollution. For example, in 2017, Indonesia joined UNEP’s #CleanSeas campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter by cutting plastic waste in 25 coastal cities and reducing marine litter by 70% by 2025 .
In 2020, Indonesia’s National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) released a roadmap which sets forth recommended actions to unlock financing needed to reduce marine plastic leakage by 70% by 2025 and to achieve a circular economy for plastic by 2040. The roadmap provides a framework to incubate and scale up innovation, close the operational financing gap through reforms and capacity development, and enable capital investments through innovative financing approaches and integrated investments .
- Strengthen the capacity of relevant institutions responsible for the enforcement of laws and regulations related to pollution.
- Update and adjust existing regulations to establish a stronger legislative basis for more stringent air pollution control .
- Develop green fiscal policy measures at the national and provincial level to reduce harmful emissions from the transport sector, this might include: (i) a differentiated sulphur excise duty at the national level to help change behaviour and support the phase-out of harmful fuels; (ii) low-tech congestion charging scheme in Jakarta as an intermediate step to electronic road pricing; (iii) gradual increase in fuel prices by provincial governments complemented by a national carbon tax on transport fuels; (iv) differentiated vehicle ownership taxes levied on the purchase of new vehicles; (v) subsidies for public transport tickets targeting poorer households and to support investment in public transport networks; and (vi) subsidies for the conversion of heavy-duty vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG) .
- Complementary measures are also required to address the remaining challenges including a robust pollution reporting system incorporating warning mechanisms when concentrations exceed guideline values .
- A concerted effort to communicate the rationale underlying fiscal policy measures is also vital. Communication strategies should emphasize the numerous co-benefits (which include reduced congestion, shorter journey times, improved air quality, better health outcomes, lower health-related costs; additional revenues to improve the transport system) and educate the public on the costs of poor air quality. This would feed into the current wave of awareness of the health impacts of pollution and help build a case for using fiscal policies to address air pollution .
- Responsibilities for water quality across institutions need to be taken more seriously and be better coordinated. Clarify responsibilities, enhance coordination on water quality across institutions, and increase capacity .
- Sufficient budget needs to be allocated to allow for water pollution monitoring and control .
- Enforce pollution control regulations by expanding the water quality monitoring network, determining the assimilation capacity of all water bodies, and limiting the issuance of discharge licenses in line with the assimilation capacity .
- Increase incentives for local governments to enforce and monitor treatment of domestic and industrial, incl. mine, wastewater and evaluate their performance .
- Strengthen pollution standards by including emerging pollutants as well as pollution from mines .
- Strengthen research to better understand Indonesia’s existing SWM systems .
- Enhance collaboration and coordination among government officials, civil society, citizens, workers, NGOs, private sector, and other entities to improve current SWM systems .
- Expand and develop the markets for plastics (those that are currently valuable and those that are not) and bio-degradable materials .
- Review and revise existing laws, policies and regulations pertaining to SWM systems .
- Improve waste management infrastructure and services, such as by expanding waste collection and disposal facilities and improving waste sorting and treatment processes.
- Promote waste reduction and recycling, such as through initiatives to reduce single-use plastics and support the development of a circular economy.
- Increase public awareness and engagement on solid waste and plastic pollution issues, such as through education and outreach campaigns, and by involving local communities in decision-making and implementation of waste management programs.
- Develop policies and programs to support the transition to a circular economy, such as through financial incentives and support for innovation and technology development.
- The informal sector should be properly recognized and well compensated, as they can largely contribute to the waste collection, recycling capacity and the overall policy execution in Indonesia .
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