Universitas Indonesia Conferences, The 8th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Plastic governance in the age of the Plasticene: An anthropological critique of new waste management policy in Indonesia.
Lukas Fort

Last modified: 2022-06-06


Given the heterogeneity, tonnage and toxicity of modern waste, ‘a strong case can be made for waste as the signature of the Anthropocene’ (Hird 2017: 243). Even though it is both organic and inorganic waste that contribute to the transition to this new planetary epoch, it is the chemical composition, durability and omnipresence of plastics that make some scholars designate our age as the Plasticine. This paper expands the meaning of this coinage to include not only our plastic footprint and its impact on both people and the environment, but also the pliability of the world and our understanding of it, as is evident in the semiotic suppleness, crucial to contemporary waste management regimes, where waste can be seen as both a problem and an opportunity. This ambiguity shows that our modern waste is not only difficult to handle, but also difficult to define. Like other material expressions of the Anthropocene, our modern waste exceeds the scale of any technopolitical discourse. This is especially so in Indonesia – the world’s second-biggest contributor to marine plastic pollution (Jambeck et al. 2015) – where the majority of people have no access to basic waste collection services (The World Bank 2019). To tackle the dual crisis of waste and reputation, in 2017 the Government of the Republic of Indonesia has introduced a new waste management policy on household and household-like waste. The aim of this policy is to reduce by 30 per cent the total annual production of waste by 2025 and to handle the remaining 70 per cent (PerPres No. 97/2017). Relying on the construction of crisis and on the economic value of waste, the policy defines waste as both a problem and an opportunity. Drawing on ethnographic data derived from a fieldwork conducted on the island of Sumbawa in 2019-2020, this paper examines how different policy actors negotiate and make sense of this ambiguity. In particular, the paper highlights the unintended consequences, rebound effects and inequalities that arise from the alchemic-like ambition to turn plastic waste into a resource.



Hird, J. M. (2017). Burial and resurrection in the Anthropocene: Infrastructure. In P. Harvey, C. B. Jensen, & A. Morita (Eds), Infrastructure and Social Complexity: A Companion (pp. 242-252). London: Routledge.

Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science347(6223), 768–771.

PerPres No. 97 (2017). Kebijakan dan Strategi Nasional Pengelolaan Sampah Rumah Tangga dan Sampah Sejenis Sampah Rumah Tangga. Retrieved fromhttps://peraturan.bpk.go.id/Home/Details/73225/perpres-no-97-tahun-2017

The World Bank. (2019). Cleaning up Indonesia’s urban solid waste. Retrieved fromhttps://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/12/05/cleaning-up-indonesias-urban-solid-waste

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