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Peise rundt i verden

Marie Kvalheim Nilsen

The land of plastic

Kategori: Indonesia | 2 kommentarer » - Skrevet lørdag 13. mai , 2017 kl. 06:49

This was an assignment given in Introduction to Peace study – class, at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. We were supposed to somehow promote peace and to document it in an essay, drama, movie etc. We were told it was a rather small assignment, and we were not supposed to make it very comprehensive. Despite this, I think my modest findings were quite interesting and therefore I choose to post it here.


In this paper I will do a photo essay about the environmental damage of plastic. My photos are taken where I usually eat and do my grocery shopping, in order to focus on and raise awareness to, the everyday small, easily achievable measures. Those kinds of choices which adds up over time and becomes influential and important efforts. Since the purpose of this assignment is to document a contribution for promoting peace, I will begin by justifying the relevance between plastic and peacebuilding.

First of all, it´s important to mention that a direct link between environmental degradation and war/peace is still controversial. Academics in these respective fields of research do not seem to agree. However; what they do seem to agree about –  an aspect of which there is really no escape, is the indirect link between climate change and peace. The debate can more or less be summed up by a statement made by the head of the Institute of Sustainability and Peace at the United Nations University:

There is no doubt that impoverishment and human insecurity may arise as a result of climate change […] However, there is missing evidence that global warming directly increases conflict.” [i]


Despite this controversy, there is a rising awareness about the linkage between these two factors, and the United Nations – for instance, already acknowledged the world´s first climate change conflict in Sudan in 2007 (see previous footnote). Before I go any further, I find it important to briefly elaborate more specifically concerning this (indirect) linkage. Probably the most commonly accepted correlations are the conflicts caused by climate refugees and migration, but I would like to address some more conflictual aspects by introducing New Climate for Peace. This is a global knowledge platform, financed – among others, by the EU and the USAID, which aims at building more comprehensive evidence on this very matter[ii]. This platform refers to climate change as the “ultimate threat multiplier”[iii], which means that when climate change interacts with social, economic and environmental pressure, the outcome will be significantly worsened than it initially was. They refer to examples like countries ability to meet citizen´s needs, weakened states, social upheaval and violent conflicts, and they have summed up these challenges in seven different climate-fragility risks, which they claim threatens state and society. These are pictured below [iv]

Indonesia is the world´s second largest contributor to marine litter[v] and according to UN Environment, 80 % of the worlds marine litter is made of plastic[vi]. Based on personal observations; Whenever an item is traded for money in Indonesia, plastic is offered – or more often; given to you without any questions. Size, weight, texture or amount is of no importance – plastic bags (and often double layers) will be included in the trade, unless you specifically make sure that you don’t want it. Takeaway food and drinks (in any liquid form), eggs, fruits, nuts, pastries, seafood, kurma, gorengan and any sorts of snacks are all bought in one-time-use plastic bags. Fruits are in addition often wrapped separately in plastic – one by one, or sliced up / peeled and sold with plastic wrap.  This also applies to many sorts of vegetables like broccoli or cabbage. In addition to this, most people use non-reusable straws, with every outside meal – in other words; often three straws a day. During 4 months, I only once witnessed  a person bringing their own shopping bag and I never saw anyone bringing boxes or bags for takeaway. Buying plastic bottles with water and sweet drinks is also very common – up to several times a day, however, bringing your own bottle is not uncommon. For the average Indonesian, this latter observation might have something to do with unwanted expenditure, rather than awareness, but this is merely a personal assumption.

That being said, this plastic usage might be just slightly above a global average, but what makes Indonesia´s usage particularly severe is that they do not have a centralized recycling system. Only 14 % the countries total garbage volume is handled via garbage banks [vii], and as a resut; a minimum of the plastic produced is being recycled and reused.

Anyhow, the main purpose of this paper is not to comment on Indonesia´s environmental wrongdoings, but what I could do to contribute to peace through personal measures. I decided to contribute by reducing my carbon footprints – specifically through reducing my plastic waste. I already justified how these measures influence peace and stability, but It´s also important to mention that my peace building efforts is not the kind which contributes with any immediate effect. I´ve chosen to focus on a preventive method, where peace is promoted through the avoidance of certain scenarios – in a long term perspective. I should also mention that my contributions did not start with this paper. The efforts I´m referring to in this assignment, I already made since I first moved to Yogyakarta, but this will be the first time documenting and calculating its effects. And it´s the first time linking my efforts to peace promotion.

For one week I counted all the plastic bags I was able to avoid.
Specifically, this included:

a) * Every time I was offered a bag, but said no due to having a rucksack – or
b) If in need of a plastic bag, but had brought one on my own which I was reusing.

The numbers below represent an average week in my everyday life in Yogyakarta. 


Day of the week Amount of plastic
bags offered
For what purpose
Monday 1 bag
1 bag
1 bag
1 bag
2 bags
Pastery in the cantine
Groceries at Indosuper
Groceries at Hypermart
Tuesday 1 bag
1 bag
1 bag
1 bag
Dates (Kurma)
Guava Cristal
Groceries at Indosuper
Wednesday No purchase
Thursday 1 bag
1 bag
2 bags
Groceries at Carrefour
Friday No purchase
Saturday 1 bag Martabak
Sunday 1 bag
1 bag
1 bag
1 bag
Groceries at Indosuper

Total 19 bags

* These statistics does not include those occasions where it´s likely that the cashier would give me double bags (when buying heavy items), due to low quality plastic.


Now the question to ask is how much affect did these small measures have?
In order to calculate this out, I´ve used Time for Change´s calculations [viii]. According to them, 1 kilo of Polyethylene (the most commonly used plastic) produces 6 kilograms CO2.
The mathematical framework ends up like this:  

– 1 kg Polyethylene requires 2 kilo of oil for energy/raw material
– Burning 1 kilo oil, produces 3 kilo carbon dioxide.
– 2 kg oil x 3 kg carbon dioxide

= 6 kg carbon emissions for 1 kg plastic

An average plastic bag weights around 30 g. Now, I know Indonesian plastic bags are very thin and light-weight, but considering shopping often require double layers of plastic, I still choose to make the math with these 30 g, despite me not calculating double layers in my personal record of usage. This is in order to come up with more accurate numbers.  

During my week, as showed in the table, I avoided 19 plastic bags.
19 bags x 30 g = 570 g plastic.

In other words, during one single week of awareness – by avoiding roughly half a kg of plastic, I managed to reduce my personal carbon footprint by more than 3 kg of carbon dioxide. 

Further, the most rational measure is to calculate carbon emissions during one year of usage. As mentioned, I will argue this week represents my average use in Indonesia and therefore I will use this number in my further calculations.

This makes:
570 g plastic x 52 weeks = 29640 g plastic
= 29,6 kg annual plastic usage

29,6 kg plastic x 6 kg carbon dioxide required
= 177,6 kg annual carbon emission

This amount is sufficient to meet the energy demand of an average house, for 5 days –
Or an equivalent of a 42´ LCD TV – running 44 days continuously [ix].

Personally, I´m quite impressed by these numbers and they took me by surprise. I honestly would not have thought these small efforts added up to such amounts of reduced emissions. These numbers do not even include me always bringing my own water bottle, never having takeaway or never using straws. Or for that matter, those six times (round trips) during this semester where I´ve chosen train and ferry, when the most obvious option was air plane.

At the risk of repeating myself, and despite this being a cliché-full closure; these numbers yet again reveal the importance of every day awareness and the significance of those small measures. I would like to give my last words to Hamish Daud – the Indonesian presenter at UN environment, as he is neatly phrasing my own conclusive thoughts:

«We hail from one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but our nasty plastic addiction is slowly choking our precious coasts and the marine life we share them with. Join with me to turn the tide on plastic – together we must start saying ‘no’ to unnecessary plastic in our daily lives that is ending up in the sea – decline the plastic shopping bags, reject the straws, replace plastic bottles with filtered water. I stand today with UN Environment to urge governments, industry and consumers to put an end to our dangerous plastic habit.”
(see footnote nr. 6)






[i] Our World. Mark Notaras, 27th November 2009.

[ii] New Climate for Peace –  background information

[iii] New Climate for Peace – Taking action on Climate and Fragility Risks

[iv] New Climate for Peace – infographic

 [v] The Diplomat. Muhammad Taufan, 26th January 2017.

[vi] United Nation Environment newscenter. 23rd February 2017

[vii] Indonesia Expat. Heru Nainggolan, 26th October 2015.


[ix] How much CO2 is that?



  1. Pappa sier:

    Bra Marie!

  2. Ole Soknes sier:

    Et dagsaktuelt tema med skremmende framtidsperspektiver hvis vi ikke tar til fornuft.

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