Zero plastic policy: Between myth and reality

In the last few months, I wrote a simple article about the government’s political fantasy about “zero plastic” on my blog (Web-Celso). Again, this time, I would like to re-introduce a similar problem. I have observed that the issue of waste management policy is an unrealistic utopian phenomenon. Plastic waste products almost dominate the habitat of this small population (Timor-Leste. Plastic products such as Polyethylene terephthalate, Polypropylene, and Polystyrene have become packaging products that have dominated supermarkets and kiosks, including small-scale businesses throughout Timor-Leste. This reality gives a piece of clear evidence that there is a lack of appropriate policy actions to prevent and reduce plastic products that have the potential to damage the ecosystem and human life in this tiny nation. The ambitious zero plastic policy and legal approach to plastic waste management actually already started in 2019, but in reality, the non-organic waste products are already spreading throughout the region and have certainly damaged the environment we live in this crocodile land, Timor-Leste

Celso da Fonseca,Dili, 21/9/2022

Plastic products such as drinking water bottles, dispensing containers, shampoo bottles, bags, trays, tableware, plates, glasses, and other protective packaging products have become a significant concern of the people in this country. Unfortunately, ignorance of societies contributes to disposing of plastic waste everywhere; this kind of human activity has endangered human life on this planet.

Photo, Celso da Fonseca

Even though the government has already regulated the use of plastic through political and legal intervention, this action remains a public concern because plastic waste products can still be found everywhere, including in urban, remote, and rural areas in Timor-Leste.

In 2020, the government of Timor-Leste established a decree law to control plastic products. Especially the law was designed to prohibit single-use plastic bags in Timor-Leste. As the decree law, 37/2020 was made to protect the environment from plastic waste; for example, this law applies rigorous sanctions over the distribution of plastic imports considered one of the significant prevention mechanisms. Indeed, this law has already applied to those companies that import plastic and will pay around 30 percent of the imported tax. Unfortunately, it remains political rhetoric with no severe control.

In fact, Every small trader, street vendor, and other small business actors, such as traditional markets, kiosks, and other small business actors, still rely on plastic bags. This fact certainly raises the curiosity about why plastic products are still being used in Dili.

It seems that the government, despite being successful in controlling single plastic use at the supermarket and non-conventional market levels; However, the government has not made maximum efforts. In this sense, implementing political and legal action to control plastic is considered failed to control plastic products from small business activities.

Unfortunately, the lack of control from the government exacerbates environmental pollution. For instance, recently, when there was a sudden strange rain yesterday (20/9/22) in Dili, I observed that all the plastic products thrown away by the community rushed to the beach and the ocean.

Some contrary arguments pointed out over the awareness of the societies, of course, the societies must also have a sense of promoting environmental friendly approach into their life. For example, put the waste products in the rubbish bin, or change the attitude of using plastics to use non-plastic bags.

Clearly, the community seems to enjoy using plastic products without concern about the negative environmental impact on human life and the environment. Apathetic behavior like this, of course, creates a negative effect, which can be polluted and kill all the life of marine biota species in the ocean and the livelihood of humans in this county.

We are all aware that plastic products create a significant phenomenon in Timor-Leste. Although the government had been proud to show its commitment through its significant dream action of the “zero plastic” policy, which has resulted in some good outcomes. It’s so difficult to see that there is only a little chance of genuine progress that has happened so far.

Similarly, some partner organizations and developmental aid agencies have had some good initiatives and commitments. Yet, the reality shows that plastic products remain an alarming concern which almost in everyday life of societies still depend on using these products.

Indeed, some good practices have been implemented, like using biodegradable bag products introduced into big business shops, schools, and public and private organizations seem successfully achieved. Similarly, the socialization of using organic plastic has also been introduced; however, eliminating plastic products in real life remains a significant challenge to put into practice.

Regardless of the plastic bag products, the government failed to control all plastics produced from Polyethylene terephthalate, Polypropylene, and Polystyrene. Almost everywhere, these items dominate imported products. So the question is, what is the solution to eliminate
plastic in Timor-Leste?

One of the outstanding ultimatum solutions is the recycling process. Although this ambitious plan requires adequate financial support and facilities, this policy can be used as an alternative solution to address plastic products in Timor-Leste.

Four years ago, in 2019, it was the moment when political actors and state institutions for environmental issues. A massive promotion on the issue of waste management and the use of plastic products was introduced. Moreover, some political actions through various programs to eliminate plastic products were implemented by the Secretary of State of the Environment and its partner organizations. Indeed, concrete steps have been taken, starting with the waste management and recycling pilot program in the Sub District, Motael, Dili. However, a few years later, this brilliant program almost disappeared; it no longer exists in the area of Motael.

At the level of cooperation between institutions, development agencies, and international and non-governmental organizations, there is some concrete support and even help with some small funds through bilateral and multilateral approaches. Indeed those support help this government to further make the dream of this country become a reality, making it “free from plastic” products in coming years.

At the institutional level, for example, in 2019, the secretary of state for the environment signed an agreement with the University of Sydney with Mura Technology to develop recycling processing technology by investing 40 million USD. Yet, until now, I have not heard any news about the government’s ambition to make Timor-Leste becomes one of “the world’s first plastics-neutral country” through recycling processing technology.

Nonetheless, all plastic products can be easily found everywhere with inadequate waste management plans. With all these political gaps and utopias, I assume and conclude that the government’s ambition to promote “zero plastic” is just a myth without further and concrete actions so far.

Celso Fonseca, Dili, 21/9/22

Published by Celso Da Fonseca

I'm just a dreamer who enjoys my freedom. Freethinker, free writer, and free dream.

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