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Wasting away: Behind Jakarta’s trash problem

Indonesia, July 16, 2009

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Michelle Udem

Jakarta Globe
July, 2009

Most Jakartans know little about what happens to their trash once they throw it into their waste bins. By the morning, the waste has miraculously disappeared and as long as it’s not around anymore, why bother worrying about the landfills or recycling and composting?

“I really don’t know where my trash goes or who picks it up,” said Rena Nurul Agustiary, a homeowner from Central Jakarta. “My pembantu [maid] takes care of it.”

According to the German-based Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association, more than 22.5 million tons of garbage are generated in Indonesia every year. In 2020, Indonesians are expected to throw away 53.7 million tons.

Despite these figures, little has been done by the national and Jakarta governments to limit the amount of waste going into landfills. As a result, trash piles high at waste dumps, where recyclable plastic, paper and glass, and food scraps that could be composted, wait to be burned or buried.

Rena said that her neighborhood has trash pickers who collected garbage from homes. “But I don’t separate my leaves and plastics from my trash,” she added.

Most of the recycling that goes on in the city is done by trash pickers. Mukali, a trash picker from North Jakarta, said, “Once I pick up the trash from people’s houses, I take it to a central area where other people buy the plastics and cardboard to reuse them.”

For Mukali, the central area is near the administration office in North Jakarta, where he sells the recyclables. The rest is taken to the Bantar Gebang dump in Bekasi, on the western fringe of the city.

Foreign nonprofit organizations such as BORDA and the US-based Mercy Corps have started recycling campaigns, projects and organizations.

Haryanti Kospanto, program manager of Mercy Corps, has been working with the poor in Jakarta to create community recycling programs.

The program she manages — Healthy Places, Prosperous People — connects Jakarta’s trash pickers to international industries that purchase products such as cellphone pouches that locals have made from recycled materials.

But Mercy Corps receives little government support. “The most we have gotten from the government has been a pilot project with the North Jakarta government to collect plastics from waste sites and recycle them into handicrafts,” Haryanti said. “And for funding, we work with Canada’s International Development Research Center.”

The IDRC was created in 1970 to help developing countries use science and technology to find practical, long-term solutions to their social, economic and environmental problems.

Future plans of Mercy Corps include making liquid fertilizers and expanding its customer base for handicrafts to countries all over the world. Also working with the IDRC, BORDA hosted a workshop in Surabaya in June focusing on viable options for decentralized solid waste management in relation to low-income settlements in Indonesia.

The international XSProject supports the estimated 450,000 trash pickers in Jakarta by paying them an above average wage for the materials they collect. Some trash pickers also make products from the materials. The organization connects the workers with businesses overseas that buy the products.

There is one recycling project running that Jakarta can be proud of. In March, the local governments in Jakarta and Tangerang began building a waste-to-energy plant at the Bantar Gebang dump. The plant will be able to process tons of garbage into compost, plastic grain and electricity.

Managed by two companies, PT Godang Tua Jaya and PT Navigat Organik Energi Indonesia, the facility will process the 4,500 tons of garbage that come in every day from Jakarta.

The recycling facility will also have a liquid waste processing system and will be able to utilize the methane gases emitted from the waste to generate electricity.

It is estimated that the plant could generate 12 megawatts of electricity per day by June 2010, and will be sold to state-owned electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara. The plant will create employment for about 1,200 workers, who will sort through the tons of garbage.