Shocking photos have emerged showing a river in Indonesia clogged with tons of plastic.
Rivers and canals in the city of Bandung, West Java, can be seen filled with masses of rubbish, including plastic bottles, bags and other packaging.
Officials have said they are in “battle” with the waste and called in the army after struggling to cope with the huge heaps that pile up as quickly as they’re able to clear it.
A commander of a military unit in the city of Bandung described the rubbish — which in some places is so thick it’s blocking the flow of water through the city — as “our biggest enemy.”
A population boom, combined with an explosive increase in the amount of plastic around the world, has caused the problem.
Dr. Anang Sudarna, who heads the West Java Environmental Protection Agency, told the BBC: “[The problem] is impossible to sort out without the highest authority.”
Sudarna, who encouraged the president to bring in the army after local authorities were struggling to cope with the situation, says the move has made some difference.
He said: “The result is a little bit improved…but I am angry, I am sad, I am trying to think how best to solve this…the most difficult thing is the people’s attitude and the political will.”
Indonesia, like other developing countries, has a culture of throwing rubbish into the street, causing it to pile up quickly.
The country does not have the facilities to dispose of their waste in more environmental ways and unlike the UK, it hasn’t had the benefit of activists campaigning for people to reduce their consumption of plastic.
Soldiers have been pictured using nets to extract plastic from the waterways, but they said as soon as they cleared it, more would flow down the river.
The BBC reported that during one attempt to clear the rubbish, the trucks army officials were waiting on never arrived, so they were forced to simply push the plastic further down the river.
The task is an unusual one for Sergeant Sugito, a commander of one army unit.
He said: “My current enemy is not a combat enemy, what I am fighting very hard now is rubbish, it is our biggest enemy.”
Local residents are being encouraged by the government, who have begun to fight the problem, to recognize the value of plastic, sorting it from other rubbish and trading it in for money.
The country is also starting to educate students on waste and recycling and improve public attitudes to curb people throwing their rubbish into the street and decrease their consumption of single-use plastic.
Ad Ragas, a Dutch environmental scientist with experience in the problem, said he’s detected an important shift in the handling of the problem – that it’s “dramatically changed.”
He uses images on social media of choked waterways and beaches covered in plastic to try and affect change.
He said: “[Residents] immediately see that ‘this is what my river look likes now and I’m doing that because I’m throwing all this plastic away’ so they get feedback much quicker than they used to.”
Though there is hope for the future, officials say it could take many years for the situation in Indonesia to be properly under control.
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