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Understanding is too shallow if the “new normal” only means the limited application of health protocols such as wearing a mask or just washing your hands using soap. However, far from that new normal should be interpreted as a fundamental movement to change old habits that previously had a bad impact, into new habits that are not harmful.

One of the old habits that must be immediately abandoned in the new normal scenario is related to the use of disposable plastics. What’s with disposable plastic? 

It is undeniable that during the pandemic, or especially when working from home (WFH) and Large-scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) recommendations are carried out, increasing the amount of plastic waste in the community is increasingly worrying. 

The results of studies from the Center for Oceanographic Research and the Indonesian Institute of Knowledge (LIPI) mention WFH as well as various recommendations to carry out activities at home during the pandemic, instead of making the use of disposable plastic in the community increased sharply than usual. 

In a study entitled “The Impact of PSBB and WFH on Plastic Waste in the Greater Jakarta Area”, it was revealed that the main cause of the increase in the amount of plastic waste was because people were increasingly diligent in online shopping. 

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How not, activities carried out at home each encourage people to forego conventional shopping transactions and switch to online in order to minimize COVID-19 exposure. People who usually shop online 1 to 5 times a month, increase to 1 to 10 times a month during the recommended move at home. 

In fact, 96 percent of packages sent by sellers to consumers is wrapped in thick plastic even added with bubble wrap as additional protection. In the Jabodetabek area it self, the amount of plastic waste from packages resulting from online shopping far exceeds the amount of plastic waste from packaging. 

Nevertheless, the results of this study also revealed that public awareness of the issue of plastic waste is fairly high. For example, 60 percent of respondents thought that the use of plastic wrap did not reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. This is certainly in accordance with the research that says that COVID-19 can survive on plastic surfaces for three days, longer than other surfaces such as cardboard or stainless steel. 

However, again, this high level of public awareness has not been accompanied by concrete actions to reduce disturbing plastic waste. It cannot be denied that during the pandemic, environmental issues were not highlighted as strategic and important issues to be executed immediately. All of that is because attention and concentration are heading towards the epicenter, called health and the economy. Thus, the notion that the use of disposable plastics will be far more efficient, because they can be discarded immediately, so as to minimize the possibility of exposure to the virus – this becomes a pseudo-truth that is trusted and followed during this pandemic. 

Not only during the implementation of activities at home during the pandemic, in the transition period of the PSBB, or in the new normal period, the use of disposable plastics is also increasingly prevalent. For example, when I joined the prayer Juma’s congregation in one of the mosques that use the COVID-19 protocol. The mosque caretaker even distributed plastic bags to worshipers who were present to wrap sandals or shoes they were carrying. The step was taken to minimize the spread of COVID-19 through footwear worn by worshipers. 

The Essence of Plastic Excise 

The more widespread use of disposable plastic, especially plastic bags, the higher the threat of the danger of plastic waste to the environment and life. It is well known that the problem of plastic waste is not only a problem of Indonesia but has become a global problem which until now is still difficult to handle, as it is difficult to decompose plastic. 

To curb the rate of use of plastic bags, in 2019 the Indonesian government issued a policy of imposing an excise tax on plastic bags. The excise tax scheme is IDR 30,000/kg or IDR 200/sheet of plastic bags. The excise value is relatively cheap when compared to several other countries such as Denmark with an excise tax of IDR 46,763/kg, South Africa with IDR 41,471/kg, Malaysia with IDR 63,503/kg, Taiwan with IDR 84,239/ kg, Cambodia with IDR 127,173/kg, the Philippines with IDR 259,422/kg, and Ireland with IDR 322,990/kg. 

Excise itself can be understood as a state levy imposed on certain goods which have properties or characteristics that have a negative impact; this is certainly already stipulated in the Excise Law. 

The higher the value of the excise tax on plastic bags, the more it proves the seriousness of a country to face the impact of pollution due to increasingly worrisome plastic. Prior to the application of plastic bag excise tax in Indonesia, Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati had calculated the impact of inflation which was said to be very small at 0.045%. Sri Mulyani also mentioned assuming that 53 million kilograms of plastic consumption per year, the country has the potential to receive revenue of IDR 1.6 trillion from plastic excise. 

The income will certainly increase considerably if the value of the plastic excise tax is increased. The increase is certainly very relevant: simply put, people will choose to pay for a plastic bag that costs IDR 200 more than buying a non-plastic or non-disposable shopping bag whose price is far above that price. As a result, the excise tax that is applied with the aim of holding back the rate of use of plastic bags will only add coins to the country without being able to achieve the original goal of reducing or even eliminating the habit of using disposable plastic bags. 

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Therefore, it would be nice if the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a momentum to remember the importance of the environment by reducing or even eliminating the bad habit of using disposable plastics. 

A new normal application should not just be orderly and obedient in using a mask and washing hands with soap, but starting a new life by forming new habits that are more useful. Previously, the community was not sensitive to maintaining health, so it was normal to advocate better health. Likewise, with plastic, if previously we always used disposable plastic, then just teach how it is now normal to abandon the habit. Such is the essence of the new normality itself. 

By: Delly Ferdian

Researcher at Madani Berkelanjutan 

This article was published at the Independent Observer Indonesia, July 31, 2020.

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