Jakarta’s Garbage Time Bomb

In this picture taken on March 30, 2013 people search for material to recycle at the biggest Indonesian capital Jakarta's garbage dump at Bantar Gebang, in Bekasi. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

By : Harriet Conron | on 11:11 AM February 13, 2014
Category : News

INDONESIA-THEME-RECYCLING People search for recyclable material at Jakarta's garbage dumb at Bantar Gebang, in Bekasi, West Java. The capital produces an estimated 4,500 tons of water daily. While 63 percent of the nation's refuse is organic and can be composted, there is no large-scale sorting. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

Carts of rubbish line the streets surrounding the Rawasari waste separation facility. Inside, men work quickly, hungrily dissecting piles of rotting garbage with pitchforks, separating recyclable waste from biodegradable matter, and trash destined for Bantar Gebang.

Snatches of upbeat banter and laughter mingle with the flying baskets of rubbish, and in the rush occasionally pieces of glass, plastic and green waste end up in the truck with the landfill.

Eddy is 25 years old, and he sorts garbage at Rawasari for a living. He makes money by selling the recyclables he separates from the trash on to collectors. He likes his job, he says. Even though the garbage collectors’ incomes are low, and their jobs gruesome, they seem to have fun together.

The manual sorting process takes a long time – at full capacity, with eight men working at Rawasari, three to four tons of waste can be separated in half a day. But high operating costs mean the facility must reduce staff, resulting in less recycling and more landfill. Local government has pulled its funding this year, and the facility now relies on the Indonesian Solid Waste Association (InSWA) to ensure it continues to operate.

InSWA survives on sponsorship and donations from its members, companies like supermarket chain SuperIndo. Unless it receives this funding, it cannot support the operation of the recycling facility into the future. The rubbish will only continue to pile up in the streets around Rawasari.

Dini Trisyanti from InSWA says companies that produce goods with a lot of packaging have a responsibility to monitor what happens to that packaging after the product has been consumed.

“According to the law, the responsibility for packaging waste lies with the producers. But the implementation is difficult, for a lot of reasons,” she says.

Extended producer responsibility, or EPR, is written into Indonesia’s solid-waste management laws as a voluntary strategy. EPR laws require manufacturers to finance the safe disposal or recycling of their non-biodegradable products, but the vast majority of packaging producers will not take on this costly responsibility until compliance becomes mandatory.

There are some companies with programs in place to support EPR, but these attempts do not go far enough, Dini says.

Waste management is a huge problem for Jakarta. The city’s 10 million residents currently rely on 110 hectares of landfill at Bantar Gebang in West Java to cope with the sheer volume of waste they produce. Since the site opened in 1989, pollution in the local area has triggered a number of protests and created a great deal of tension between Jakarta and the local administration.

Every day, 4, 500 tons of Jakarta’s waste is added to Bantar Gebang’s so-called “rubbish mountain.” Unless trash collectors pick up specific materials to sell on to the recycling industry, glass, plastic and cardboard all end up at Bantar Gebang. The composting facilities at the dump cannot support the large volume of organic waste arriving there, so biodegradable waste is left to decompose with non-organic materials, emitting poisonous methane gas into the atmosphere.

In the United States and Europe, waste sorting is achieved by the separate collection of recyclable waste, organic waste, and non-recyclable, non-compostable waste. This relies on well-managed programs funded and regulated by municipal governments.

“Here, it is difficult for that to happen,” Dini says.

Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama revealed on Friday that the Jakarta administration cannot afford to buy much-needed new garbage trucks in 2014, reflecting Dini’s sentiment. By calling for financial assistance from the private sector, Basuki acknowledged that the Jakarta administration does not have the resources to manage the city’s waste on its own. His appeals to corporate social responsibility reflect an understanding that Jakarta cannot continue to rely on aging infrastructure if it wants to be a world-class city.

The private sector has the assets to make a real difference to waste management in Jakarta, as well as a responsibility look after what happens to a product’s packaging waste after it has been consumed. Dini believes it is a matter of working together.

“Packaging producers have to be responsible and collaborate with the government and the community,” she says.

She believes Unilever’s waste bank project is a good example of a community initiative to reduce waste on Jakarta’s streets.

Funded by the Unilever Foundation Indonesia (UFI), the scheme trains communities to separate recyclable waste. When households deposit their recycling at a waste bank, the rubbish is sold to collectors and the plastic recyclables industry, where it can be reused or recycled.

The profits that the waste banks make from selling the recycling are passed directly onto the communities they support.

UFI supports the program by providing incentives to start up waste banks, working with local nongovernmental organizations to fund training and monitoring, as well as providing small amounts of money for equipment.

“Through waste banks, you can have people motivated to separate their waste because there is an incentive. It is a good way to move forward to EPR,” Dini says.

But the objectives of the program, to absorb waste through recycling schemes, cannot be separated from Unilever’s business.

“We are consumer goods producers, and the goods use packaging, and we have to really understand what happens post-purchase to our packaging waste,” says Maya Tamimi, environment sustainability manager at UFI

The scheme is about creating awareness about recycling and waste in local communities. Unilever Foundation Indonesia is already seeing changes in the behavior of participants in the program.

“When they go out, they don’t litter,” Maya says.

Although the program has succeeded in reducing the amount of recyclables in landfill, it needs to grow in order to make a real difference. Education will play a key role in achieving this.

“There is a need for social engineering in the community, so people become aware of their waste management and become concerned about the waste that they produce,” says Woro Utami, assistant to the environment program at UFI.

Maya agrees. “We are really trying to educate people,” she says. “Sometimes we think that we are doing enough … but when we talk to others in the community, talk with InSWA, and we realize that we are not communicating this [idea] enough.”

Dini says the popularity of waste banks would increase if local government could work with the private sector to create a buffer and stabilize the price of recycling. InSWA’s research shows households separating the waste bear the brunt of the financial risk caused by price fluctuations.

The program has had real problems retaining community involvement in some cities, including Jakarta.

“The people in Jakarta are very educated, and they have their own ego — it is a problem for us managing Jakarta. The approach we take in other cities doesn’t really work in here,” Maya says. The higher incomes and busy lifestyle of the city’s residents means they aren’t interested or don’t have time to work together to separate their waste.

Dini believes the waste banks also face problems because of their small size. “There is a role for local government to support waste banks, and to increase them to city scale,” she says.

Next Friday is National Waste Care Day. The date marks nine years since the Bandung landfill tragedy, where mountains of collapsing garbage killed more than 140 people. Limited organization and poor monitoring were blamed for the disaster.

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