President Joko Widodo has removed palm oil refining waste – or what is commonly referred to as spent bleaching earth (SBE) – from the category of hazardous and toxic waste (Bahan Berbahaya dan Beracun or B3). Previously, discussions about amendments to the B3 category focused on fly ash and bottom ash (FABA), which emerges during coal production and is no longer included in the B3 category. Both substances’ repeal is listed in Government Regulation No 22/2021 regarding the Implementation of Environmental Protection and Management dated 2 February 2021.
SBE waste was previously included under the category of hazardous waste under Government Regulation No 101/2014 regarding Management of Hazardous and Toxic Waste, which was adopted under the previous President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Environmental groups claim that the government removed SBE waste from the B3 category to please entrepreneurs’ demands. On 20 July 2020 – as the Omnibus Law was still being discussed and opposed by the public – the Indonesian Vegetable Oil Industry Association (GIMNI) demanded that SBE not be categorized as B3 waste.
This policy change will inevitably affect communities living in the vicinity of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. Indigenous communities in West Papua will mainly be affected by the policy. Suitable agricultural areas in Western Indonesia have become rare as Indonesia’s population is growing and plantation density has reached a critical limit. For this reason, the Government has targeted less populated islands like Kalimantan and West Papua to maintain its position as the world market leader in the palm oil sector. The provinces Papua and Papua Barat have been designated as sites for new palm oil plantations. They are home to the largest pristine rainforest areas in South East Asia with extremely high biodiversity.