Reducing Plastic Pollution in Indonesia

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Lukman Baihaqi Alfakihuddin was working as a science teacher and lecturer in Surabaya City, East Java, Indonesia when he learned about the opportunity to study for a Master’s degree in the U.S. under the sponsorship of the USAID PRESTASI 3 program. Lukman had developed a deep passion for protecting the environment and knew that further education in environmental studies and resource management would help him to be able to make a larger impact in this field in Indonesia.

Lukman decided to apply for the PRESTASI 3 program to further develop his skills in his passion. He was notified that he was accepted into the program’s second cohort of scholars and he was placed at Florida Institute of Technology, where he began studying for his M.S. in Environmental Resource Management in August 2016.

In the Spring semester of 2017, Lukman attended a workshop held by his university in collaboration with the Marine Resources Council (MRC) regarding protecting and restoring the fish and wildlife resources of the local Indian River Lagoon. From this workshop, Lukman networked with members of the Marine Resources Council, which led to him being offered an internship to work with the non-profit organization.

During his internship, Lukman spent his time travelling up and down the Indian River Lagoon to learn about how to monitor the water quality of the river by testing the water’s color, dissolved oxygen, acidity (pH), salinity, nutrients, plastic pollution, and other contaminants. Lukman was also exposed to MRC’s citizen science water quality monitoring program, LagoonWatch, which fosters community involvement in water quality issues throughout the Indian River Lagoon. The goal of the program is to provide lagoon-wide data to better understand changes in water quality over time through the help of trained volunteers who collect and report data related to water quality. This program taught Lukman about the importance and effectiveness of community engagement in the effort to protect the environment. From this experience, Lukman felt inspired to return to Indonesia and work to spread more awareness to local Indonesians about environmental issues and motivate them to take action to do their part to protect the environment.

After graduating with his Master’s degree in December 2017, Lukman returned to his position as a teacher at Great Crystal School in Surabaya. There, he has been teaching science to primary schoolers, biology to secondary schoolers, and Cambridge IGSCE level science courses. He enjoys teaching these classes to expose children and teenagers to environmental issues affecting Indonesia, such as plastic pollution, climate change, and air pollution.

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Upon graduating, Lukman also took on a new position as a project supervisor with the Plastic Action Network (PLAN), a local non-profit organization in Surabaya. This organization has the objective to restore degraded terrestrial and marine ecosystems by raising awareness of the danger of plastic burning, nurturing a new generation of youths who care deeply for the environment, and creating community interest and visibility for environmental stewardship. As a project supervisor, Lukman works to create support networks with local universities Airlangga University, Brawijaya University, and UIN University to adopt a watershed-beach ecosystem. He also organizes events such as cleanups, workshops, music events, and contests at local universities, schools, villages, and online to spread the message of the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling resources. He has also managed a social media campaign for PLAN which promotes youth finding solutions for plastic waste.

In addition to his work responsibilities, Lukman has continued to be proactive in seeking out professional development opportunities. Lukman was chosen as one of 35 individuals out of over 600 applicants to participate in the first cohort of the Cornell Climate Online Fellows program, which took place from September 10 to December 13, 2019. The purpose of this fellowship program is to have participants identify, discuss, implement, and assess greenhouse gas mitigation actions they take locally and within their social networks. Lukman and the other participants (who represented 26 different countries) met weekly via webinar, along with Cornell University faculty, and discussed the potential for implementation of climate solutions in the different countries they represent. In addition, each fellow implemented a climate solution activity within his or her community and evaluated the implementation process and outcomes in a final report.

Lukman chose to focus his activity on plastics reduction due to the large impact that plastics production has on climate change. Plastics are often created using energy from fossil fuels which results in billions of tons of carbon pollution every year. For his final report, Lukman shared the outcomes of his work with the Plastic Action Network spanning from April 2019 to December 2019. In that time, PLAN held two plastic bottle recycling competitions. The first competition had 111 participants while the second competition had a total of 263 participants. On top of that, Lukman coordinated 4 plastic recycling workshops and 1 musical concert for PLAN which had 2300 attendees. In direct correlation with these activities, Lukman calculated that approximately 700 kg of plastics were recycled.

Lukman has utilized his experiences studying as a PRESTASI 3 scholar in the U.S. to promote awareness and positive action in his community regarding climate change and plastics reduction. Through his work with PLAN, Lukman has been able to engage thousands of local community members in fun and entertaining ways to encourage them to be mindful of their plastic use and its affect on the environment.