From what we read on the internet, COVID-19 is possibly the biggest disaster that we ever experience in our lifetime. The coronavirus attack, despite it is only a small virus invisible to naked eye, have caused severe harms to our lives in many aspects especially social and economy.
Really, we don’t need the coronavirus attack to make our live under a huge threat. We are already facing two boss monsters, which are climate change and plastic waste. As with COVID-19 attack, we now have to face three boss monsters.
It might be too hard to tackle all at once, but some innovative people in Indonesia found a way to overcome this situation with small acts. Since Indonesia is one of several countries with plastic problem and relatively poor internet access, these people came up with an idea to trade plastic waste for internet access.
Hopefully, this story is able to inspire a lot of people all around the globe.
Indonesia, The Plastic Archipelago
Indonesia is known as a beautiful country with various culture and rich of natural resources. That’s true, and nothing is wrong with that. However, not many people know that Indonesia is also one of the biggest plastic consumers in the world.
Plastic is everywhere in the country, because starting from small businesses to the most sophisticated ones you can imagine of are using it. Plastic bags, plastic food wrapper, plastic straw, and cigarette buds are the most common plastic waste found in the country.
Where are those plastics go after use? As we know, plastic only has two destination: landfill and water bodies. A study conducted by University of Georgia stated that 3.22 million metric tons of plastic waste is annually being tossed into Indonesian water bodies.
There are some rivers being known to have the highest pollution level: Ciliwung river, Brantas river, Solo river, Serayu river, and Progo river. All those rivers are located in Java, the most populated island in the archipelago country.
And up to nowadays, there seems like no serious action taken by the government to stop plastic use in the country’s citizen. The reason is because plastic can provide cheap and durable product and/or wrapper, thus industries are able to maintain their budget. It is all about economic growth.
COVID-19 In Indonesia
Since somehow plastic is used in Indonesia to “support economic growth”, even the smallest home industries are using it too. But in this COVID-19 period, global economic growth is hampered by the plague, including Indonesia.
Indonesia itself is struck hard by the coronavirus attack. Having the biggest population in Southeast Asia, Indonesia also suffer from the most confirmed case of coronavirus. The government, for public health reason, issued total and partial lockdown in many regions.
This decision of course affected small industries, and plastic can no longer give its “support” to the country’s economic growth. Why bother wrapping foods and snacks in cheap plastic wrapper, if no one is going to buy it anyway?
The problem is, people in the country is like already been addicted to plastic. Plastic is still the best option, according to most industries in Indonesia, because it is cheap and durable. In addition to that, education about environment is still not a top priority there.
There are not so many industry players in the country that really understand and care about plastic waste and its effects to environment. We can bet that even after this COVID-19 storm is over, and the country is more polluted with excessive use of single-use face masks, plastic will still be used to “support” economic growth.
Going Uphill For Internet
Even though education about the environment is currently not a top priority in Indonesia, but education in general still is. And as what happens in other countries, during this coronavirus period, schools are shut down to prevent virus transmission among students.
Every single teaching and learning activities are now done online. But online teaching and learning process is another problem that many Indonesian people have to deal with. Having a good access to internet is still not prevalent for every Indonesian student.
Even if you think that having smartphone that can access internet is actually enough for remote teaching and learning activities, but good cellphone signal is not available in many areas. Some students in Agam, West Sumatra, have to climb a hill to access education.
“Only about one in six of Indonesia’s roughly 60 million households had an internet connection in mid-2019,” according to the Association of Internet Service Providers Indonesia (APJII). And not all of those households are willing to share their internet connections to other people.
“Now, because of the pandemic people need internet access. There’s a sudden need for all areas to be covered. Now we know that our infrastructure is not ready,” said Indra Catri, one of Agam regents, to Benarnews.
Trash For Internet
Too much information to digest? Then let’s now talk about the real deal. Dimas Anwar Putra, a student in Indonesia, and his friends have been collecting plastic every day for the last two months and bring it to Iing Solihin, a local trash collector.
Iing Solihin belongs to one of those Indonesian people who have access to good Wi-Fi internet. The reason why Dimas have been bringing collected plastic trash to Iing is because Iing will trade plastic trash for Wi-Fi for the students.
“If we collect trash, it’s like a charity for me and apart from that we also get free internet data,” Dimas said. Iing then sells all the plastic trash collected by students to fund for his Wi-Fi Station. Monthly, it cost Rp 340,000 (around $22) to provide internet access to the students.
Iing’s innovation to provide internet access to the students can basically tackle two problems in one go. It can provide ‘cheap’ internet, since the students don’t need to pay any money in addition to a big help to the planet by reducing the amount of plastic trash.
Iing’s Wi-Fi station is currently helping more than 30 students to get education during this hard time. “The problem is when the internet data runs out before the end of the month, and they (the students) can’t study anymore,” the man explained.
Many other students are facing the same problem Dimas got, but there is not enough “Iing”s around us. Why doesn’t this story become an inspiration to all of us?