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The Seruyan River in Indonesian Borneo has historically been viewed as a convenient rubbish chute that carries local waste away and out of sight. However, it is becoming clear to villagers near the mouth of the river that “away” doesn’t exist.
The Seruyan River basin is large; thousands of plastic bottles, as well as food, soap and sweet wrappers are among the significant hordes of plastic waste that travel along it into the Java Sea. A recent study found that just 10 rivers carry 90% of the plastic entering the oceans, and eight of them are in Asia. While the Seruyan River is not in this top 10 list, it is clear that rivers heavily impact levels of ocean plastic and consequently have a critical role to play in solving the issue.
The television programme Blue Planet II raised awareness of the damage plastic is doing to the world’s oceans and the flora and fauna that occupy them. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish, and much of that will be in “microplastic” form, meaning it will be more easily ingestible by fish, turtles and seabirds. These harrowing statistics have spurred thirty countries to join the UN’s CleanSeas campaign, while many communities and businesses are taking immediate action.
But while plastic pollution is a global issue, solutions need to be tailored to local environments. A new project supported by European media company Sky is tackling this complex issue, with the objective to reduce up to 8,000kg of plastic waste entering the Seruyan River. Five lead waste collectors in each of the 14 main villages along the river will be supported through the project, while key transport links will be established to carry the plastic to recycling facilities.
Additionally, a sustained educational campaign will be delivered from Ulak Batu Village to Sungai Undang Village to raise awareness of the hazards of river waste disposal and the importance of maintaining river cleanliness. The river is seen as a public place without clear ownership status. It is used for waste disposal without much thought to the impact of that waste on downstream riverside communities, water quality and biodiversity. This behaviour change campaign, which aims to alter how local residents view and treat the river, will help ensure the river remains clean in the future.
The project is an extension of the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve project, which Sky supports as part of its carbon neutral commitment. Ten years ago, Sky became the world’s first carbon neutral media company by making internal reductions and supporting carbon finance projects around the world. This REDD+ project contributes to 13 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by protecting 65,000 hectares of forest in Rimba Raya, Indonesian Borneo. It does this by engaging local communities in education and agroforestry training. Another of the projects Sky has supported also aligns with its Rainforest Rescue campaign: Acre Amazonian Rainforest Conservation in Northern Brazil.
Sky has now turned its attention to plastic pollution. The company aims to inspire simple, every day changes to stop our oceans from drowning in plastic. It’s making this part of everything it does at Sky, underpinned by the commitment to be free from single-use plastics by 2020. In March this year, it launched an impact investment fund, Sky Ocean Ventures, designed to invest in innovative solutions to eradicate single-use plastic. Sky is asking other businesses to invest beyond its own commitment of £25 million and has received support from National Geographic through its scholars initiative.
“We are pleased to extend our support of the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve in Indonesia to help clean up the waterways, reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean and improve the quality of life for local Indonesian communities,” said Fiona Ball, Head of Responsible Business and Sky Ocean Rescue.
“Plastic pollution is now everyone’s issue, but it has to be tackled river by river, business by business and person by person. This project looks at both removing the existing waste and preventing more, by engaging people living locally to the Seruyan River. At Sky, our staff and customers continue to be proud that we are a CarbonNeutral company and are proud of the work we do to support environmental and sustainable development around the world. Investing in this plastic clean-up project makes good business sense and strongly aligns with our Sky Ocean Rescue campaign.”
InfiniteEARTH is coordinating the clean-up project. Miguel Kleinkopf, an InfiniteEARTH Director, commented, “The project is much needed as the plastic and waste is not only causing local villagers health issues but is also destroying biodiversity, which is in turn impacting food supply. Cleaning the Seruyan River will have a dramatic impact on all the villages within the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve, creating a healthier environment, protecting biodiversity and helping to increase local fish populations that have been impacted by waste.”
District and village governments, schools and community groups are also involved in the project, including organisations PT. Rimba Raya Conservation, Garbage Bank and PEDAL (Program Edukasi Desa untuk Alam dan Lingkungan - Village Education Programme for Nature and Environment).
A “Clean Friday” initiative will recruit villagers to collect waste from the river and surrounding area, sending the waste to appointed locations to weigh and sort the recyclable component. The project will set up critical transport and infrastructure pathways on land, river and sea to take the waste to the main plastic recycling facility in Sampat, while any non-recyclable waste will be transported by garbage truck to a temporary or final disposal site.
It is this broad local involvement, along with the educational campaign, which will be critical to the ongoing success of the project.
 Schmidt, C., Krauth, T., Wagner, S. (2017): Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea. Environ. Sci. Technol. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02368 Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b02368
 How plastic is damaging planet Earth, Ian Johnston, The Independent, Thursday 28th September 2017. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-how-planet-earth-environment-oceans-wildlife-recycling-landfill-artificial-a7972226.html