Jakarta (ANTARA) - Plastic waste has become a very serious and urgent problem at the domestic and global levels as it pollutes both land and water environments, thereby threatening the preservation of the Earth as a habitat for living things.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Insight Report, Radically Reducing Plastic Pollution in Indonesia: A Multistakeholder Action Plan of National Plastic Action Partnership, Indonesia produces 6.8 million tons of plastic waste every year. However, about 61 percent of the waste is not managed properly, it said.

The report states that an estimated 620 thousand tons of waste entered Indonesian waters in 2017. If no action is taken, it is estimated that by 2025, 780 thousand tons of waste will enter Indonesian waters every year, it added.

In view of this, Indonesia has drafted an ambitious action plan to reduce 70 percent of plastic waste and 30 percent of solid waste, as well as manage 70 percent of solid waste by 2025.

In addition, according to the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment’s press release Number SP-62/HUM/ROKOM/SET-MARVES/VI/2020, the government has prepared a National Action Plan for Handling Marine Debris.

Five strategies have been implemented under the action plan -- a national movement to increase awareness among stakeholders; management of waste originating from land; waste management on the coast and the sea; funding mechanisms, institutional strengthening, law supervision and enforcement; as well as research and development.

These strategies are expected to aid the optimal handling of waste so that Indonesia can achieve near-zero plastic pollution by 2040.

One of the strategies is expanding research and development so that innovations can be applied to the handling of plastic waste in the country.

The National Atomic Energy Agency (Batan) is utilizing nuclear technology to solve the problem by processing waste to create valuable products and detecting microplastic waste in the ocean.

Head of Batan Anhar Riza Antariksawan said the agency has conducted research and development activities on the management of plastic waste by utilizing nuclear science and technology.

Moreover, the agency's effort is being supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through a project called the Nuclear Technology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics) program, he informed.

The IAEA had asked Indonesia to become a pilot country for the three phases of the implementation of the NUTEC Plastics program, he said.

The program comprises strengthening the handling of plastic waste in the downstream sector, building a demo plant, and upstreaming the use of irradiation technology for handling the waste, he informed.

Batan is trying to use irradiation to turn waste into Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) through the use of nuclear technology, Antariksawan said. It is also analyzing the movement of microplastic waste scattered on the beach or sea using certain radio isotopes as tracers, he added.

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According to the coordinator of radiation process at Batan’s Isotope and Radiation Application Center, Tita Puspitasari, plastic waste management through nuclear technology involves the use of ionizing radiation originating from gamma rays and electron beam machines.

"Thus, we can produce new functional materials that have additional value. Currently, the activity is carried out through regional technical cooperation projects initiated by the IAEA called the RAS1024 project," she informed.

The "new functional material" she refers to is WPC, a plastic and biomass waste-based material that can replace wood used in both indoor and outdoor home products.

Though it looks like wood, WPC has certain advantages over it such as water and termite resistance, she said.

Moreover, the processing of plastic waste -- comprising polyethylene and polypropylene, which are widely used in single-use packaging -- to make composite products will prolong the life of plastic, thus it can reduce the number of potential pollutants, she added.

Manufacturing of composites requires a compatibilizer for combining plastic and biomass components and making the mixture more homogeneous, she explained.

Radiation technology can be applied for generating the compatibilizer through graft copolymerization techniques and producing nanocellulose from waste biomass through radiation degradation techniques, Puspitasari said.

The technology can also increase the mechanical strength of the composites through radiation cross-linking techniques, she said.

The development of the product prototype is expected to be completed when the RAS1024 project concludes, she said. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024, if the situation quickly returns to being conducive amid the pandemic, she added.

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Meanwhile, tracking microplastic waste on the beach or sea can be conducted by identifying their deposits in sediments using a natural isotope method of Pb (Lead)-210 dating, she informed.

The method can help determine how long the plastic or microplastic has been deposited in the sediment layer, she explained.

Through the method, the age of the sediment can be determined as far back as 150 years by using geochronology and the Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) tool, she informed.

Moreover, the type of microplastic that has been deposited in the sediment can also be identified, she said.

Another method involves using isotopic tracers to study the effects of microplastics in marine biota contaminated by waste, which has already been developed at the IAEA laboratory in Monaco, she informed.

The microplastic monitoring activity will begin in 2022 under the RAS2021001 project Puspitasari said.

Furthermore, under the NUTEC Plastics program, the IAEA has sked Batan to develop innovative products using recycled plastic. The activity is expected to serve as a model to be implemented further by other countries.

The IAEA has provided considerable support for the program by increasing capacity building for human resources and infrastructure through RAS1024, RAS2021001, technical cooperation project, as well as coordinated research project, she said.

The NUTEC Plastics program is scheduled to be finished by 2025 and may be extended after an evaluation.

The use of nuclear technology under the program is targeted to contribute to solving the plastic waste problem in the upstream sector by recycling plastic waste to produce functional products as well as microplastic problems in the downstream sector by monitoring microplastics using radioisotope techniques in the ocean.

Thus, it is hoped that the program will be able to help the nation manage waste better in future, thereby mitigating the damaging impacts of environmental pollution.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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