Early this year, the customs office seized 113 containers of scrap metal, each weighing 28 tonnes that were allegedly contaminated with hazardous waste, at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta.
The containers, 89 of which were from England and 24 from the Netherlands, arrived in five shipments between late December and January from ports in Felixstowe, England, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The Environment Ministry’s deputy director for hazardous and toxic waste management Masnellyarti Hilman has said that every year developed countries look to send their waste to Indonesia.
“Due to our lack of awareness, they sometimes send the waste illegally and others have falsely claimed that the waste was basic materials,” she said.
She said the flow of such waste into Indonesia had shortened the life spans of landfills in the country and caused health problems among scavengers.
She added that the ministry was cooperating with the trade ministry to draft a regulation on Secondhand Workable Electronic Stuff to prevent the flow of e-waste into Indonesia.
Masnellyarti said that secondhand functional electronic devices that entered the country must not be more than five years old and should still be in one piece.
“We have a slightly looser regulation because we received many protests from businesses,” she said, adding that the ministry was also drafting a ministerial regulation on domestically produced electronic waste management.
She said that the law could create alternatives for distributors to pulling their products and inform people about where to dispose of their waste.
Some attempts have been made by the government to protect the country against illegal imported e-waste.
In October 2011, Indonesia, together with Switzerland, brokered an agreement at the UN environmental conference in Cartagena, Colombia, to speed up the adoption of a global ban on the export of hazardous waste, including old electronics, to developing countries.
More than 170 countries agreed to accelerate the action. It will not be an easy task as the demand for old electronics is still robust in Indonesia.
Based on Environment Ministry data dated 2006, Indonesia had 80 large and 150 small-and medium-sized electronics producers, most of them in Java, North Sumatra and Batam.
Many spare parts are imported, which opens loopholes for illegal imports of e-waste, but there is no exact data on the amount of illegal e-waste entering Indonesia.
This does not taken into account the fact that Indonesia has hundreds of sea ports, which adds to the problems of monitoring the illegal import of e-waste.
Around the world, the issue of e-waste has been heating up over the past two decades years following the shipments of obsolete electronic products to developing countries, mostly in Asia and Africa, by major producers and users.
The surge of e-waste started in the 1970s and 1980s and the problem mounted when it became apparent that hazardous waste, including e-waste exported from developed countries to developing countries, was causing serious environmental pollution.
In response to concern raised about the issue, the 1989 Basel Convention ? the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal ? was put into effect in 1992, to tackle the problem.
The Convention allows its 178 members to ban imports and requires exporters to gain consent before sending toxic materials abroad.
Annex VIII and Annex IX to the Convention determine some qualifications as to whether electronic waste is categorised as hazardous waste or not.
Coordinator of the Indonesia Toxics-Free Network, Yuyun Ismawati, said that although Indonesia ratified the convention, the country was not in favour of implementing the stipulation, especially since the import of hazardous waste was prohibited.
Indonesia, she said, had discussed e-waste issues recently, thanks to the presence of Basel Convention Regional centre SEA Office in Jakarta, which had been pushing the issue since 2006.
“All I can say is that Indonesia is, as usual, always slow and has taken a back seat position in all pressing matters related to public safety and protection.”
In 1994, the European Community adopted the convention, which bans the export of hazardous waste to anywhere outside the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development grouping of mostly developed countries.
The BBC once reported that the rules, however, were only partially effective. Only one-third of e-waste is thought to be treated in line with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive.
The remainder enters a “hidden flow” fed by offices, and municipal waste collection points, and part of that flow is illegally exported.
Used electronics sometimes come to developing countries as “donations” from developed countries.
In some cases, however, what is intended as a useful gift immediately becomes junk because most of the e-waste brought to developing countries is out-dated and no longer useful.
Indonesian centre for Environment Law researcher Dyah Paramita said that waste imports had violated the 2008 Law on Waste Management, which forbids imports of e-waste, of any kind, to Indonesia.
The surge of imported e-waste, she said, would only add to the economic burden on the country.
“We have not been able to manage our non-hazardous waste well, so how can we cope with this imported e-waste?” she said.
Inspection and law enforcement relevant to illegal imports of e-waste need to be increased to prevent the flow of e-waste into Indonesia, Dyah said.
“We in ICEL also urge the government to take strict action against any companies or individuals who bring e-waste to the country.”