One million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Unfortunately, half of all plastics produced is designed for single use.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, only a small amount of plastics was produced, hence why global plastic waste was relatively manageable. However, between the 1970s and the 1990s, plastic waste generation more than tripled due to a rise in plastic production. In the early 2000s, the amount of plastic waste generated increased more in a decade than it had in the previous 40 years. If historic growth trends continue, the global production of primary plastics is forecasted to reach 1,100 million tons by 2050. There is also a worrying shift towards single-use plastic products.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 400 million tons of plastic waste are produced every year. Approximately 36 percent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, approximately 85 percent of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.
It is estimated that 1,000 rivers are accountable for nearly 80 percent of global annual riverine plastic emissions into the ocean, which range between 0.8 and 2.7 million tons per year, with small urban rivers as the biggest polluter.
In countries with poor solid waste management systems, plastic waste – especially single-use plastic bags – can be found clogging sewers and providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests, thereby increasing the transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria.
To increase the focus on behavioral change to reduce single-use plastics, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), a leading think tank in Indonesia, recently organized a seminar titled “Nudging Strategy for the Reduction of Single-Use Plastics” at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (FISIP) of the University of Indonesia (UI) in Depok, Indonesia.
The reduction of single-use plastics is the first step to creating a plastic-free Indonesia. Reduction can be achieved through various means, such as the nudge theory, which is a novel and viable option.
“The nudge theory is a method used to change individual behavior through persuasive encouragement, which emphasizes three aspects: psychological, economic, and social. This concept is appropriate for use in the environmental scope as its implementation does not restrict individual behavioral patterns, unlike rules and prohibitions,” the CSEAS said in a press release.
The nudge theory was popularized by behavioral economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their seminal book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness”. The foundational premise of a nudge involves designing or arranging the decision-making context in ways that promote behaviors that are in the interest of individuals.
Nudging is an approach that is dependent on behavioral science, which uses subtle interventions to help people make better decisions. To be effective, a nudge must follow a two-step process: First, the target behavior needs to be identified. Second, a choice architecture (the context in which people make decisions) must be created or modified to make it easier for individuals to choose a better solution.
A nudge is to isolate a particular aspect of the choice architecture (e.g., the admission options displayed when a visitor first enters the museum) and consider how that element could be modified or controlled to guide an individual toward taking a desired action (e.g., changing the order of options for admission to present membership in the first position).
When designing a nudge within an existing decision environment, the choice architect makes changes by adding, removing, or adjusting elements that affect the decision-making process. Whatever the situation, there is no such thing as a neutral design – everything has the potential to influence decisions, for better or worse.
The main purpose of the seminar, which was held on March 15, was to share knowledge on the nudge theory and its implementation in single-use plastic reduction as well as to build cooperation with various stakeholders to overcome the single-use plastic problem.
The seminar presented several prominent speakers from Indonesia and other countries, such as Dr. Atsushi Watabe, Programme Director of Sustainable Consumption & Production at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Jo Kumala Dewi, Director of Environmental Partnerships at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Ayako Mizuno Programme Manager for the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris, or RKC-MPD, at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Arisman, Executive Director of CSEAS, and Dr. Nurul Isnaeni, lecturer of International Relations Studies at UI.
The seminar can be accessed by clicking the following YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/live/uabSxUeyEEs?feature=share
In 2019, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry issued the Ministerial Regulation No. 75 on the Roadmap to Waste Reduction by Producers. This regulation aims to encourage producers to become more responsible for their product packaging. Waste reduction by producers is one of many ways that can solve the waste problem.
In 2023, IGES, in collaboration with ERIA, will conduct a pilot project in various ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, using a behavioral insight approach to reduce waste, ranging from plastic waste to food waste. As its partner in Indonesia, CSEAS will conduct the project at UI FISIP.
Behavioral insight is important to reduce plastic waste in Indonesia. “The purpose of this pilot study is to see how the application of behavioral insight affects plastic waste reduction in Indonesia,” Watabe said in his speech.
To reduce the plastic waste, a special method can be used. “To overcome this issue, we can use the 3M method: Start with Yourself, Start Small, and Start Now,” Jo said.
The behavioural change also applies to plastic producers. “The implementation of behavioural change does not stop at the consumer level; it applies to producer behavior as well,”Arisman said.
There is also a role to play by students in reducing plastic waste. “As the largest stakeholder in campuses, students must also become involved in reducing plastic waste,” Nurul suggested.
After the seminar, there was a kick-off meeting at FISIP to mark the beginning of the single-use plastic intervention program.
Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan seen from Indonesia”,
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