Data Solutions to Asia’s Mismanaged Plastic Waste – A Surabaya Case Study

Admin | Feb 20, 2020


With the right data solutions, there is huge potential for plastic waste management in South and Southeast Asian cities to overcome challenges of fragmentation in complex plastics value chains. Surabaya is one such city.

Surabaya is the capital of East Java and the second largest city in Indonesia with a population of over 3.4 million people. Geographically, Surabaya is in a strategic location as it is located in the center of Indonesia in East Java. As a result, many plastic waste industries ranging from plastic manufacturing to plastic recycling, are located in the Greater Surabaya area and, according to research by SecondMuse, an estimated 1600 tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated in Surabaya each day. 

In Surabaya, the consumption of low-value single-use plastics remains a significant issue in the plastic waste dilemma. While plastics like PET and HDPE are of value and able to be recycled, low-grade plastics used widely across single-use packaging creates plastic waste that is more difficult to manage and recycle due to the material’s significantly lower value. The lack of recycling technologies available to process and recycle the immense volumes of various types of plastic waste also poses a challenge to this region’s cities like Surabaya. 

In order to address this, several Indonesian cities are attempting to ban low-value plastics to reduce plastic waste. However, an absolute ban is not a silver bullet solution and does not ensure responsible management of the plastic waste already in circulation. It is vital we understand the plastic value chain and identify the levels at which intervention is crucial and impactful.

Surabaya’s plastic value chain

Surabaya, like most cities across South and Southeast Asia, has a waste management system — from collection to sorting, and processing to final disposal — that is operated by a mix of  formal and informal actors. Specifically, about 85% of the city’s collected mixed solid waste is disposed of in landfills, and 15% is diverted. It  is estimated that 80-90% of all solid waste management activities that lead to recycling are managed by the informal sector, and 10-20% by formal institutions, most of which are waste banks.

Additionally, some activities in the value chain are operated by both sectors. For example, waste from households and businesses is collected by either waste collectors who are employed by the government or informal waste pickers who are employed by local aggregators. The diversity of entities involved in Surabaya’s waste management makes it extremely challenging to monitor their activities and track material flows across the entire plastic value chain. Furthermore, the fragmented nature of the plastic value chain in Surabaya also reduces the transparency in the plastic waste management process, making it tough for reliable and consistent plastic data to be collected.

Despite this, there is potential to create real change. Program Manager of the Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator Program (OPPA) in Surabaya, Klaus Oberbauer, is optimistic.

“There is a strong opportunity for collaboration to address key difficulties across the value chain, which we have heard echoed in the continued growth of the new Surabaya Waste Action Network with already over 40 local players. To achieve greater collaboration in this sector, we need to continue to design and inform this community of valuable opportunities to work together, create a shared vision of what an improved waste management system will look like, and build trust among the actors”, he said.

A common problem

Driven by a lack of quality data along the plastics value chain, various countries in South and Southeast Asia face the same problem as Surabaya when it comes to plastic waste management. The result is limited visibility and transparency, which leads to an inability to effectively track, monitor, forecast, or optimize material flows and reduce ocean leakage. 

Against the backdrop of such realities, the Plastics Data Challenge aims to identify and test solutions that can address such complex challenges. Technologies, models and data science being applied in other complex systems can be adopted into plastic waste management and revolutionize Asia’s circular economy.

Applications still open for the Plastics Data Challenge 

The challenge invites all innovators worldwide (including academic institutions, startups, companies, and data scientists) to submit their innovative data solutions that advance plastic waste management and the circular economy in South and Southeast Asia. If you or anyone in your network has a solution or prototype to address these issues, join the Challenge for the chance to win USD 10,000, a trip to Singapore for a collaborative Innovation Summit with a cohort of plastics data innovators from around the globe, technical support and the opportunity to pilot your innovation in the region! More information on the Plastics Data Challenge and how to submit applications can be found here. Applications close 13 March 2020. 

Full details on the challenge and how to submit applications can be found here.


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