While many know it for its beaches and jungles, Indonesia is also the world’s tenth largest textile producer. According to recent news by the Indonesian Ministry of Industry, the country aims to become one of the top five largest textile producers. To do so, Indonesia will have to increase its current textile export volumes significantly. This move will see the textile industry employing an estimated 600,000 more people yearly. But increasing textile production will come with a new set of environmental challenges. Even at the current rate of production, the textile industry in Indonesia is causing water pollution at an unprecedented rate.
Over 1000 textile factories dump tonnes of toxic waste into the Citarum River in West Java, making it one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
People dwelling along the river confirm that the factories wash out dyes every two hours causing the water to visibly change colour. Employees from the factories also corroborate reports that their employers dump untreated waste into the river.
A documentary aired in 2014 on UK TV placed mercury levels in the Citarum at four times above what is recommended as safe.
The Blacksmith institute also estimates lead levels to be 1000 times more than recommended by the US EPA.
Some of the horrific effects of the pollution include:
Textile factories along the Citarum are not keen to shoulder the responsibility for the river’s pollution and blame most of it on the local inhabitants.
But according to Green peace, though other industries are located along the river, the textile industry is to blame for up to 68% of the river’s pollution.
Officials from the environmental bureau in West Java also say that domestic waste does not release heavy metals so the inhabitants are not to blame. They also admit that despite the heavy penalties put in place, compliance levels with anti-pollution rules is low.
On a positive note, a $3.5 million-dollar clean-up initiative is underway, spearheaded by the government of Indonesia in collaboration with stakeholders from the private sector and NGOs. The clean-up, which was launched in 2010, has a 15-year outlook.
Additionally global brands such as GAP, H&M, Adidas, who source their products from factories located along the Citarum can play an important role – and indeed, have a responsibility – in the river’s rehabilitation.
They can do this by ensuring that their suppliers don’t use harmful dyes and chemicals in fabric production, or even by refusing to buy from factories that don’t treat their chemical waste before dumping it.