An excavator collects rubbish at Rawa Kucing landfill in Tangerang on Monday. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Life Is Plastic, but Not Fantastic


OCTOBER 14, 2019

Dozens of scavengers were busy collecting rubbish on Monday at the Rawa Kucing landfill in Neglasari near the city of Tangerang in Banten, barely an hour's drive from the capital Jakarta.

More than 20 hectares of the 32.8-hectare landfill are already swamped in garbage, and more are coming in every day. 

Tangerang won the prestigious Adipura Kencana environmental award in 2014 and 2017 for being the cleanest metropolitan in Indonesia, but the achievement has done nothing to reduce the amount of garbage dumped at Rawa Kucing.

At least 1,400 tons of garbage are sent to Rawa Kucing every day from homes, factories, markets and shopping centers in the city.

The landfill tries to do its bit in recycling. It distributes methane produced by its mountains of rubbish to households around the area to be used for cooking. 

Household waste is also processed into compost for the city. Meanwhile, plastic waste from factories and shopping centers are sorted by the scavengers and then sold or recycled. 

The anti-plastic trend has not been kind to the scavengers at Rawa Kucing, whose livelihood depends on collecting plastic waste. 

Fifty-year-old Ardi and his 45-year-old wife Aci, who have been scavenging plastic bottles at Rawa Kucing for years, say they now don't earn enough to pay for their daily meals. 

According to them, many beverage and food manufacturers have begun to replace their single-use plastic packaging with biodegradable plastic.

Biodegradable plastic is lighter than single-use plastic and since scavengers like Ardi and Aci are paid by the weight of the plastic they collect, they consequently earn less and less from their back-breaking labor. 

The couple live in a makeshift tent made of plywood at the landfill, where they also put their garbage stash before they sell it to a "pengepul" (garbage collector).

On average, they now sell 10-13 sacks of plastic every day for Rp 30,000 ($2). They used to be able to get Rp 50,000 for 10 sacks.

Dozens of scavengers collect rubbish at Rawa Kucing landfill in Kota Tangerang on Monday (14/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Scavengers in action at Rawa Kucing on Monday. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A scavenger close his nose up because of stinky rubbish at Rawa Kucing landfill at Kota Tangerang, in Banten on Monday (14/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A scavenger protects himself from the unbearable stench. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A child reads a book inside a makeshift tent at Rawa Kucing landfill in Kota Tangerang, Banten on Monday (14/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A boy reads a book in his makeshift home at the landfill. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A scavenger carries some plastic sacks with a motocycle at Rawa Kucing landfill in Kota Tangerang, Banten on Monday (14/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A scavenger is off on a motorcycle with his sacks of plastic to see a 'pengepul' (garbage collector). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A scavenger couple, Ardi (50) and Aci (45) seen in Rawa Kucing landfill, Kota Tangerang on Monday (14/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Ardi and Aci take a break at their makeshift tent. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A scavenger sharpen his collecting tool in his makeshift tent. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Sharpening a metal hook used to collect garbage. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Scavengers gather around Berak truck in Rawa Kucing landfill at Kota Tangerang, Banten on Monday (14/10). Trucks that spit out garbage loads are called by scavengers as a Berak truck. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Scavengers gather around a truck dumping fresh garbage from Tangerang. A truck like this is nicknamed 'Berak' (literally, 'taking a dump'). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Airplane seen near Rawa Kucing landfill on Monday (14/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
An airplane about to land at the nearby Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Rawa Kucing landfill authorities cover the garbage dump with sand to decrease its bad odor. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Fresh sand is poured on the mountain of garbage to reduce its odor. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)