By law, medical waste is classified as hazardous and toxic waste and is supposed to be incinerated to stop the spread of diseases and prevent contamination.
But weak supervision and enforcement of the rules as well as the lack of certified incinerators across the country meant that some medical waste occasionally ended up in landfills which are only meant for household waste.
The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Indonesian Hospital Association, hospitals across the country produced around 290 tonnes of medical waste per day prior to the pandemic. This figure has since ballooned to 493 tonnes per day.
As COVID-19 rages, infectious waste is not only produced by hospitals and clinics. They are also produced by isolation facilities which have remained largely unsupervised, as well as households that rarely separate infectious waste from ordinary rubbish.
The actual amount of medical waste produced by isolation facilities and households is unknown. However, the Ministry for Forestry and the Environment estimated that each COVID-19 patient can produce up to 1.7kg of infectious waste per day.
Around 4 million people in Indonesia have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
There are 3,000 hospitals, 8,000 community health centres and 9,000 private clinics across Indonesia. Out of this, only 120 hospitals operate their own incinerators to dispose of their medical waste.
“It is difficult for a hospital to operate their own incinerator. Buying one is easy. The hard part is obtaining a license from the Ministry for Forestry and the Environment to operate one. There are so many requirements which need to be met,” Dr Lia Partakusuma, secretary general of the Indonesian Hospital Association, told CNA.