Unilever sachets deface Indonesia’s beautiful rivers

by Daru Setyorini Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (ECOTON) Indonesia

At the Global Day of Action 2022, the Nusantara River Expedition Team of the Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (ECOTON) visited the head office of PT Unilever Indonesia Tbk to deliver three boxes of sachet waste to the President Director. Collected from Indonesian rivers, the boxes of sachet waste represent the current state of the once-pristine rivers.

The Nusantara River Expedition or Indonesian Rivers Expedition (IRE) is an initiative by ECOTON that establishes collaboration with local river communities, researchers, and journalists to raise awareness of the issue. Headed by Prigi Arisandi and Amirudin Muttaqin, the river expedition investigates river health and documents the condition of 68 rivers in Indonesia, starting from Wonosalam at the upstream area of the Brantas River in East Java to the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, Papua, Nusa Tenggara, and Bali. The journey is estimated to take 10 to 12 months.

The Indonesian Government Ordinance PP 22/2021 mandates that all Indonesian rivers must have zero trash as required in the annex to River Water Quality Standards for all water use classifications. Unfortunately, the Nusantara River expedition found that rivers in Indonesia are still being flooded with plastic, and this condition is very common in the country. As rivers clogged with plastic have become commonplace, the government and communities do not consider it a serious problem and see no urgent need to stop it. However, plastic waste occurs not only in Java’s most populated coasts and rivers. In Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, Mollucas, and Papua, a lot of plastic waste, especially sachets, is scattered in rivers and beaches.

A microplastic analysis of the water samples collected by the team found that 99% of Indonesia’s rivers are contaminated with microplastics from the degradation of plastic.

Plastic bags, styrofoam, straws, plastic bottles, and sachets break down into small pieces not larger than 5mm in size. Microplastics enter the human body and accumulate, which can cause long-term health effects. Microplastics contain toxic additives such as phthalates, BPA, or PFAS that have endocrine disruptors and carcinogenic effects.

The Nusantara River Expedition Team also visited the eastern region of Indonesia, including North Maluku Province at Ternate, Tidore Islands, North Halmahera, and Central Halmahera; Maluku Province at Ambon City and West Fiber District; and Papua Province at Sorong City and Sorong Regency. In these three provinces, brand audits have shown that Unilever sachets dominate the composition of plastic waste, mostly from brands such as Sunsilk, Royco, Rinso, Molto, TRESemme, Sunlight, Lifebuoy, and Dove. According to the Indonesia Waste Management Law 18/2008, sachet waste is categorized as residual waste, and as such, every producer must take responsibility to reduce and treat it properly under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.

Unilever is included in the top 5 global sources of plastic pollution along with Nestle and Coca-Cola. Their products are widely used in Indonesia and reach even remote villages such as communities near Barito, Kuin, and the Martapura Rivers.

The government should seriously increase waste management services in Indonesia and stop waste from getting into waterways. Producers such as Unilever, Wings, Indofood, Mayora, Ajinomoto, P&G, Unicharm, Danone, Coca Cola, and Nabati must take responsibility for cleaning up their waste so that it does not threaten the health of the residents of Banjarmasin and South Kalimantan or the rest of Indonesia. Producers must also participate and aim at reducing polluting plastic packaging. In addition to redesigning these packaging, producers must also clean up the plastic waste that has come to contaminate Barito, Martapura, Kuin, and other river communities.

The river expedition team asked PT Unilever to take full responsibility for polluting Indonesian rivers with sachet waste and immediately take the following actions:

  1. Establish detailed, clear, and firm targets and roadmaps to stop selling multilayer sachet and disposable plastic packaging, aim for a reusable refillable distribution system, and announce Unilever’s serious commitment and roadmap to prevent and reduce plastic waste generation to the public.
  2. Stop investing in counterfeit solutions for handling waste, such as downcycle recycling, which stops the circulation of plastic materials, chemical recycling, and refuse-derived fuel (RDF) that release carbon emissions and hormone-disrupting toxins and microplastics.
  3. Increase investment in real solutions to overcome the plastic crisis by developing materials, technology, and distribution systems that are safe and sustainable, replace single-use plastics with reuse-refill systems, and implement EPR to increase the collection and sorting of plastic waste from consumers for all their packaging.
  4. Expand the area for implementing trials/pilots selling reusable packaging and building a distribution network for refill kiosks to remote and remote areas of Eastern Indonesia – areas that are not reached by the formal waste management services of the local government.
  5. Support the efforts of the government and the communities in building and replicating independent waste management areas to encourage the implementation of the responsibility of citizens who produce waste every day, by applying the principle of zero waste in bulk through reducing waste generation, segregating waste from sources, and operating organic waste processing facilities in each village and sub-district settlement area.
  6. Make efforts to prevent contamination of toxic chemicals and hormone-disrupting and carcinogenic microplastic particles on products and product packaging that is marketed.
  7. Carry out efforts to clean up and collect sachets and plastic waste scattered in Indonesian waters, including in Eastern Indonesia, including the coastal waters of Ternate City; Weda City Coastal Waters; Sorong City waters; Ambon City waters; Bandarlampung City Beach; Bengkulu City Beach; Batang Arau estuary in Padang; Tapak Tuan Beach, South Aceh; Deli River in Medan; Batanghari River in Jambi; Musi River in Palembang; Kapuas river; Martapura River; the Kuin River; the Barito River in South Kalimantan; Kandilo River in Tanah Grogot Paser City; Mahakam River, Karang Mumus River in East Kalimantan; Poso Lake and River in Tentena District, Poso Regency, Donggala Coast; Palu Bay and Tondano Lake.
  8. Educate consumers about the dangers of plastic and invite them to switch to a reuse and refill distribution system through massive and mass public advertisements on television, print, and online media.

These demands aim to put a stop to Unilever and other fast-moving consumer goods companies from continuously defacing not just Indonesia’s rivers but our ecosystem.


“My people trade European clothing labels in their local markets,” said Africa. “My workers sort through unrecyclable Nestle wrappers, my households are amused by quick Amazon finds and my lands are dug up for oil by foreign hands.”

©Sepp Friedhuber/ iStock/ Ghana

By Merrisa Naidoo, Plastic Campaigner for GAIA & BFFP in Africa

©Vladan Radulovic/ iStock/ South Africa

Consumer capitalism is the manipulation of consumers to make purchases on desire.  Leading idealised lifestyles have come crashing against the shores of the developing world, causing us to question our identity in the face of Western ‘super brands that extract the very resources of the developing world only for it to be sold back to us at higher prices with narratives that imply progress and development.

To protest the practices of these big brands, civil society actors and activists around the globe come together in the month of Plastic Free July, to shed off the branded lifestyles that have been sold by multinational corporations in the name of convenience, hygiene and  progress. This Plastic Free July was no different, in an effort to unpackage and rethink our everyday lifestyles, GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) and BFFP (Break Free From Plastic) members from various parts of Africa participated in a month-long campaign. From demonstrating practices of reuse and refill to zero waste culture and age-old systems that worked before the colonial era of plastics and throw-away models. 

For decades, the public has been conditioned to believe that the problem of plastic pollution was caused by their own undisciplined ways of consumption and the failure of governments to institute and implement proper waste management systems. With more people understanding the unjust actions around plastic waste there has been a clear battle line drawn for the plastics industry and Fast Moving Consumer Goods Companies (FMCGs) such as Nestle, Unilever and others  to take accountability for the waste their products create. The global Brand-Audit Initiative by the Break FreefromPlastic Movement has revealed that the irresponsible and predatory practice by corporations of saturating our societies with single-use plastics of all kinds with no consideration of how they can be managed in an environmentally safe and benign manner is part of the root cause of the plastics crisis. To justify our addiction to fossil-fuel based plastics, industry continues to hoodwink the public, dealing us the hand of double standards and false solutions/greenwashing such as introducing non-recyclable products into our markets and overstating their recycling programs and initiatives.

Communities in Africa experience first hand the double standards of corporations like Coca-Cola (the leading polluter in Africa for 5-years in a row), Unilever, Nestle, Danone and Dow Chemicals. These corporations are causing disproportionate harm to vulnerable communities, especially in the Global South, at all stages of the plastic lifecycle. A Bloomberg investigation on a recycling initiative backed by these corporations in Ghana, West Africa, found them to be better at deflecting blame and avoiding regulation than actually taking responsibility. The initiative fell back on empty promises of buy-back centres and diverting its unmanageable waste to local recyclers and waste pickers that are ill-equipped to handle this waste. 

This is only one side of the double sided corporate penny that Africa finds itself spun on. Multi-layer single-serve sachets and flexible packaging have slowly found their way into the African market under the guise of marketing products in small quantities at a low cost to appeal to emerging economies in Africa. Everything from food, hygiene and personal care products are being packaged in minuscule societal menaces called sachets. Drinking water is also more commonly sold in such packaging formats in Africa. Between 2018-2022, Brand-Audits in Africa found 93,262 water sachets in 14 African countries ,with Coca-Cola being the top water sachet polluter from 2020-2022. Companies choosing to sell drinking water in sachets undermine the basic human right to safe and clean drinking water and exploit this need for their own financial gain.

©Nipe Fagio/ Tanzania

In reality, sachets’ true costs are externalised, as communities suffer the consequences from this unrecyclable low-value waste choking waterways, burdening waste management systems and their workers, disrupting coastal communities’ livelihoods, creating health risks, and contaminating food systems.  Privatisation of water sources has also contributed to the plastic pollution crisis from bottled water in Africa. Nestle has been found hoarding water from around the world to bottle and sell for a huge profit – in Pakistan, Africa, even in the United States, with communities that live the closest to their water plants suffering the most. This could all be avoided by making drinking water available through water stations and refill systems, and investing in alternative product delivery systems. What is even worse is that these same companies package products in recyclable materials and pay a levy to support the collection of their generated waste in the Global North, while selling the same products in unrecyclable sachets in the Global South, burdening the local waste management systems without any financial contribution.

©Green Knowledge Foundation/ Niger Delta, Nigeria

Moreover, the sovereignty of Africa and its people also come under threat from waste colonialism, which is the practice of exporting waste, from the higher-income countries in the Global North to lower-income countries in the Global South under the banner of recycling and charity, leaving Africa and its future generations to shoulder the economic, social and environmental costs of this unjust action. The manifestations of waste colonialism in Africa come in all shapes and forms, from electronic waste in Ghana’s most notorious E-waste dump to 282 illegal containers of plastic waste was exported from Italy to Tunisia as mixed municipal waste, to Accra’s markets & Kenya’s rivers flooded with the Europe’s addiction to fast fashion and the US illegally exporting harmful PVC plastic into the Nigerian economy. 

These corporations and their underhanded acts are not alone in the capitalist playing field. The plastic story begins much further upstream with the extraction of its raw materials: fossil fuels. The familiar brand names of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Danone, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and Mars are customers of the world’s largest plastic resin producers like ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron Phillips, Ineos, and Dow – vertically integrated fossil fuel/petrochemical companies that make petrochemicals from their oil and gas operations. 

Africa’s largest oil producing region and  Nigeria’s  once considered breadbasket – the Niger Delta has been ravaged by Shell. In 2004, 17% of all Nigerian oil exports – more than two million tonnes – went to the European Union. Crude oil production in 2004 was 2.5 million barrels per day, of which an average of one million barrels per day were produced by Shell, making Shell by far the biggest oil company in Nigeria. The country has significant oil reserves and even greater gas reserves. However, most Nigerians have not benefited from these resources. Shell has transformed the Niger Delta into a virtual wasteland which is one of the five most severely petroleum-damaged ecosystems in the world, bearing deep scars of human rights violations from gas flaring and oil spills with its population suffering  from multiple health problems. To add harm, Shell continues to indirectly degrade the region through unrecyclable plastic packaging used by Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies mentioned earlier.

The corporate interests of the Global North have time and time again placed the lives, livelihoods and resources of the global South at the forefront of social and environmental injustice. It is time to call it as it is, plastic pollution is a crisis caused by plastic production that starts at the wellhead and ends in the environment, manifesting all kinds of injustices along it’s lifecycle. 

It is imperative that we start:

1) recognising clearly proven solutions that start with plastic production reduction – which can be successfully achieved by an ambitious legally-binding Global Plastics Treaty

2) demand that corporations reveal the extent of their plastic footprint and toxic chemicals in plastics, reinvent/redesign their product delivery systems to shift away from single-use plastic packaging towards refill & reuse and make commitments that translate into concrete actions; and 

3) stop the tactical perusal of ‘false solutions’ to the plastic crisis that are either misguided distractions or dangerously damaging to the environment or human wellbeing. Concepts such as “plastic offsetting”, “plastic neutrality”, landfill mining, plastic roads, waste-to-energy, unproven technologies such as chemical recycling and burning plastic in cement kilns do not reduce the amount of plastic produced and do more harm than good, as many of these have been shown to exacerbate the effects of the plastic crisis on people and the climate.


Listen to the Most Impacted Community and People Leading Solutions

Paris, France– The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) held a press conference along with representatives from Acción Ecológica México, Zero Waste Alliance Ecuador,, Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers, Kenya National Waste Pickers Welfare Association, and Community Action Against Plastic Waste to provide perspectives from civil society organisations in the global south as the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution commences today.  

Expert panelists from Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean demanded the need for member states to negotiate a strong global plastics treaty that addresses the adverse impacts of plastics across its life cycle in the Global South. This includes key issues such as addressing waste colonialism, preventing false solutions and dangerous practices such as open burning, incineration, firing in coal-fired power plants and other waste-to-energy processes, co-processing in cement kilns, and chemical recycling that only exacerbate the harms from  the plastic pollution crisis. As well as putting an end to double standards whereby big brands package their products in cheap, unrecyclable single-use plastics, and guarantee a just transition for waste pickers and workers who are the backbone of recycling in the Global South. 

“The world has a historical debt towards waste pickers. Across the globe, our communities have been preventing and managing pollution of the environment from waste, and in particular plastic waste. Ending plastic pollution cannot happen without us, and this treaty negotiation process has to center our voices and expertise to achieve a Just transition towards that goal” John Chweya, Kenya National Waste Pickers Welfare Association. 

“In any country, waste pickers do not get fair returns for their work. Waste pickers know that there are toxic chemicals in plastic but we still make sure we recover them and save the environment. But nobody identifies us as environmentalists… and now with the changing plastic management system it will be a worse situation; that is the reason we are asking for a just transition, says Indumathi, Alliance of Indian Wastepickers. 

Furthermore, the press conference drew attention to the demands of civil society organisations for a strong plastic treaty. The demands entail mandatory targets to cap and dramatically reduce virgin plastic production, commensurate with the scale and gravity of the plastic pollution crisis, and aligned with planetary limits. Bans on toxic chemicals in all virgin and recycled plastics based on groups of chemicals, including additives (e.g., brominated flame-retardants, phthalates, bisphenols) as well as notoriously toxic polymers (e.g. PVC). Legally binding, time-bound, and ambitious targets to implement and scale up reuse and refill to accelerate the transition away from single-use plastics. Correspondingly, the treaty must reject false solutions. A just transition to safer and more sustainable livelihoods for workers and communities across the plastics supply chain, including those in the informal waste sector; and addressing the needs of frontline communities affected by plastic production, incineration, and open burning. Provisions that hold polluting corporations and plastic-producing countries accountable for the profound harms to human rights, human health, ecosystems and economies arising from the production, deployment and disposal of plastics. The treaty should also set publicly accessible, harmonized, legally binding requirements for the transparency of chemicals in plastic materials and products throughout their whole life cycle. And keep polluters out of the treaty process. 

Arpita Bhagat, Plastic Policy Officer for the GAIA Asia Pacific region, said: “Restricted and limited access issues disproportionately impact low-income, worse affected frontline and fenceline communities from the Global South who have the highest stake in the ongoing negotiations for an international agreement against plastic pollution.This is clear violation of UNEP’s own rules for stakeholder participation. Meanwhile, the access and influence of polluters, indicative of corporate capture of the process, are visible throughout, the recent Spotlight report being a good example. Our voices and concerns are unaddressed. We look for the support of the media to amplify our voices and demand justice for the Global South.”  

Moreover, the journey for Global South participants to the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution has not been an easy one. The civil society organisations said that Global South participants, especially the ones coming from the most vulnerable groups that are highly affected by plastic pollution, are being asked to produce unreasonable requirements for the VISA process. These requirements include an employment contract and proof of sizable  income. The organisations argue that even for an applicant fully sponsored by an organization with all the necessary supporting documents it is still a barrier that jeopardizes the whole INC process.

On the other hand, organisations have also faced problems with restrictions on organising side events, further limiting civil society participation in the treaty negotiations.  Alejandra Parra, plastics and zero waste advisor at GAIA Latin America and the Caribbean comments, “All requests for co-organisation of INC-2 side events submitted by Latin American organisations were rejected, including those that contemplated the participation and leadership of Indigenous Peoples from the region. This is not only frustrating and unfair, but contradicts the global participation that the treaty itself proposes as a basic principle”.


Press contacts:

GAIA Africa: Carissa Marnce, +27 76 934 6156,  carissa@no-burn.org

GAIA Asia Pacific: Sonia G. Astudillo, +63 9175969286, sonia@no-burn.org

GAIA Latin America: Camila Aguilera, +56 9 5 111 1599; camila@no-burn.org 

Interview with Daru Rini, Prigi Arisandi, and Tonis Afianto by Sonia Astudillo

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

Have you ever met a group of people who talk about the problems of the world, show you solutions, and suddenly you feel like there is hope for this world? That is what it felt like talking to Daru Rini, Prigi Arisandi, and Tonis Afrianto, Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation’s Executive Director, Senior Researcher and Founder, and Communication Officer, respectively.  

Once tagged as rebels by their university professors, Daru and Prigi who both studied Biology, found their calling when they set-up ECOTON as a research club in the university in 1996 and then as a non-government organization in 2000. Tonis joined the team in 2018 to bring in his communication expertise.     

“I worry about daily pollution that is happening right in front of our eyes. Fish are dying in the river, people are cutting mangroves, there was rampant building of houses in conservation areas, there was high pollution of heavy metals in coastal areas, and the water is changing colors” said Prigi. “It was difficult to understand why we are polluting the water on one side of the river and then drinking from the other side. Why is it happening? Those were the questions I had as a young researcher and I knew we needed to do something about it: research, compile data, present it to the governor via demonstrations, and get people in the city involved.”   

For Daru, it was about protecting biodiversity and the realization that the source of the problem is from the lands.  

“Back in the university, we were the naughty students,” added Prigi. “We felt useless because we had a lot of equipment but we did nothing. We were angry with the lectures because it seemed useless. Our professors became our enemy.”  Twenty years later though, Prigi was invited by the university and was given an Alumni Award for their outstanding work in ECOTON.

ECOTON, based in Gresik, East Java in Indonesia continues to promote environmental justice for present and future generations, especially in sustainable wetland resource management. The group uses the Himantopus bird as a logo to signal that just like the bird they will keep warning people if there is imminent danger. “We see our work as a warning system because we believe that we must provide good information to the community based on scientific research,” says Daru.

GAIA sat down with Daru, Prigi, and Tonis to know more about their work, their frustrations, and their achievements through the years.

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

What are ECOTON’s top priorities?

We believe: if you don’t know it, you don’t love it. We provide easy information. We transform difficult data into easy-to-understand information. Our job is to make scientific information easy to understand.  (Watch documentaries by ECOTON.)

Our dream is a people’s movement.  We want to see people conserving rivers by themselves.  We want data to translate into active participation.  

On top of that, we give early warning about environmental conditions like threats, pollution, and extinction. We share those information to stakeholders like the community, government, and media via social media and documentaries. We prioritize local community groups organizing so they can have the awareness, knowledge, and skill to participate. For the government, we push for policies that support environmental conservation while constantly reminding them through our scientific reports. Without reports and monitoring, the government will not act. 

What are ECOTON’s main ongoing campaigns? 

Our main campaign is for river protection to become a national priority of the government. Currently, there are policies on forest impact of mining but we don’t see river management programs.  

We use the information on microplastics as a tool for people to care more about rivers. Currently, all of our rivers are polluted by microplastics and it comes from the waste that we throw. It impacts our health because this same river supplies 86% of our drinking water. We want people to realize that everything we dump will eventually end up in our bodies. 

Research from ECOTON, from the UK, and Netherlands shows that microplastics are already in our bodies. We did a study that feces is contaminated with microplastics and we show how it comes from the waste thrown in the river. (Read the full report in Bahasa.

We are also suing the governor in East Java because they are not prioritizing waste management in the river despite Policy 22-2021 stating that all rivers must be without waste. 

At ECOTON, we write stories, we visit rivers, we make documentaries, and we talk to the media because we want the information that we have to become common knowledge. 

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

What are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

For one, we are still alive after 22 years. ECOTON has now become more publicly known by the people and the government. It makes it easier for us to make educational programs and reach the public. We have more networks now, so it is easier to find support. Joining a global network also helped us develop our campaigns and gave us access to more funding, knowledge, and even volunteers. 

After we did the Stop Waste Export campaign, we got support from other NGOs in Europe and Australia and a response from developed countries that they will reduce waste trade. (Watch Take Back – a documentary on smuggling waste in Indonesia)

We have developed partnerships in communities in more than 68 rivers in Indonesia.

When we first released the dioxin report, the government said the report is not valid and said they will make their own report to counter ours. To this day, they have not released their report. But, it raised people’s awareness about plastics and its dangers. 

The relationship with the government is still not good but some officers are already warm and welcoming. Some cities welcome us but that is not the case in the provinces, especially after the dioxin report.

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

Many people don’t think that the environment is an important issue to take care of. Indonesia is still a developing country. People still have low economic status. The priority for most is to earn money for living. That makes it difficult to educate them and stop them from dumping trash in the river. 

We need law enforcement. However, environmental management is not a priority for the government. There is very low funding and lack of personnel to enforce the law and respond to public complaints.

We also need more information or evidence of pollution. We do not have local evidence and no proper laboratory to conduct more tests and studies. Even if we want to know about dioxin pollution in Indonesia, we are unable to do so because of a lack of facilities. We need scientific data to make people understand.  People don’t have knowledge and information.  Evidence must be local. 

The university cannot speak even if they have the data. They are afraid to speak. Environmental activists are harassed and even criminalized. Even journalists are targeted especially when it comes to military members. That is why we need scientific evidence. 

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

Harassment of environmental journalists, lack of scientific evidence, and extinction of freshwater fish, are just a few.

The latter can be blamed on microplastics because of its effect on the reproductive hormone. We have research showing that male and female fish don’t have the same time of maturation so they cannot reproduce.  Microplastics can also feminize fish.  Plastic polymers can influence the fertility of both fish and humans. The composition of male and female in a non-polluted river is 50-50 but it is 20-80 in polluted rivers. Given all these, it is safe to say that plastics can cause extinction in both fish and humans. (Watch Plastik Pulau/Plastic Island.)

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next years? 

We have new programs such as the Besuk Sungai or visit the sick. Our river is sick so we must visit them.  People must visit the river and when you visit, you must do something.  

We provide tools so people can monitor and measure the microplastic in the river.  We collect water samples and use a microscope to see the presence of microplastic. We want to encourage people to learn by doing, to see and smell the river, and to grow empathy towards the river.

We will have our national elections in 2024 and we want to push the candidates to speak about plastics pollution. We also want to push our findings on microplastics to go viral. We want to give full information on the state of 68 rivers in Indonesia and we want people to feel that they are cool if they know about river pollution.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?

The Plastics crisis is everywhere. There are problems with mismanaged waste and leakage but developed countries don’t have the capacity to recycle and then developed countries continue to send us their waste.

The solution: we need to have a global agreement – the Global Plastics Treaty. It is good progress because we are starting to deal with plastics, not as a waste issue, but as a material that should be addressed from production so we can achieve circularity and once and for all, solve the problem.

Our grandmothers used to use refills and we need to go back to that so we can reduce production and consumption.  

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

Community participation and global citizenship are important. We are one. We have the same responsibilities and the same rights. In developing countries, the right to speak and the freedom to get information is very limited. We want to fight that. As an NGO, we must produce information and strategize on how to get those information to the people.

We have produced 20 documentaries.  We try to transfer this knowledge to our modern culture, make it popular, and easy to receive. We must replicate a strategy to produce more information and get it outside our circles. We must change as an NGO, engage grassroots communities, and build movements not programs.

Currently we have good relations with the communities where we work not just in Surabaya but also in river communities from 17 cities all over East Java.

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

Through the sustainable use of wetland resources and ecotourism and fishery, we encourage the government to establish protected areas in Surabaya. We proposed a conservation area to the mayor because once it is properly managed, it becomes a source of income for the local community.

We also promote social justice in our biodiversity programs because local people need to develop their economy by using their biodiversity resources sustainably. We discourage the use of destructive fishing equipment and teach the community how to harvest in a sustainable way, both in rivers and forests. 

We also use citizen science as a tool to monitor forest destruction. In every city and river we visit, we establish a community of mostly youth. We have tools to monitor water quality. We identify herbal plants and we promote fishers sanctuary.  We believe that we can live in harmony with the river. In some rivers, we show connections between upstream and downstream – water flow from upstream to downstream so money will flow. If people upstream are cruel, then that will affect those downstream and vice versa. We build connections so they can harmonize.

Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

Silent Spring writer Rachel Carlson because she used scientific reasons. Her evidence made people move and we were inspired. Another is Che Guevara because he went around Latin America in a motorbike to know the condition of the people and then engaged them. 

Photo courtesy of ECOTON

ECOTON is currently raising funds for Besuk Sungai. Visit the Ekspedisi Sungai Suntara Fund Raising Page to know more.