JAKARTA—Having already declared coal ash non-hazardous waste, the Indonesian government now wants to turn it into bricks that will be used for coral transplantation projects, prompting an outcry from environmental advocates.

The Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries announced on Nov. 19 a deal with coal power plant operator PT Pembangkitan Jawa Bali Paiton to produce the bricks using fly ash and bottom ash, or FABA, left over from burning coal.

“We see the potential use of FABA in coastal and marine areas as coral transplantation media, tetrapods, and fishers’ houses,” Pamuji Lestari, the ministry’s acting head of marine zoning, said in a statement.

She added her office would ensure that the development of these ash bricks would adhere to environmental standards and regulations.

Earlier this year, the government removed FABA from its list of hazardous waste, in response to lobbying efforts by industry groups that want to be allowed to sell coal ash to the construction industry.

That earlier regulation was in turn a derivative of the so-called omnibus law on job creation — a controversial package of deregulation measures passed by parliament in October 2020 that activists warned would serve the interests of the mining and “dirty energy” industries.

Environmentalists had lambasted the declaration of FABA as non-hazardous, pointing out that coal waste is known to be highly toxic to the environment and public health because it contains chemical compounds such as arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium. The new plan to use the ash for something as environmentally sensitive as coral transplantation — growing artificial reefs in new spots or where natural ones have been damaged — has drawn even greater criticism.

“It would be the wrong interpretation of the circular economy, and would instead be circular pollution,” Ahmad Ashov Birry, program director of Trend Asia, an NGO that advocates for sustainability of the environment and public health, told Mongabay in an interview.

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