Jakarta Globe | Insight

From Trash to Cash: Community Initiatives to Abolish Rubbish

Jakarta. Greater Jakarta produces more than 11,000 tons of solid waste each day, some of which ends up strewn along city streets or piled up on sidewalks due to the provincial government’s lack of efficiency in tackling the issue.

Other waste eventually ends up in landfills, producing little economic value but costing local administrations billions of rupiah in transportation fees.

However, to stem the flow of garbage ending up on city streets, some local entrepreneurs and community leaders decided to take matters into their own hands by collecting and sorting trash to be recycled or made into fertilizer and animal feed.

“We’re doing it under the realization that we must keep our own environment clean and healthy,” Anwari, a man in his early 70s who volunteers for Bank Sampah Malaka Sari, told the Jakarta Globe at his workplace in Duren Sawit, East Jakarta.

A bank sampah, or waste bank, is an organization in which people deposit waste in lieu of money. However, they receive cash upon withdrawal.

Anwari sorts trash at Bank Sampah in East Jakarta. (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)
Anwari sorts trash at Bank Sampah Malaka Sari in East Jakarta. (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)

Malaka Sari was established in 2008 when it won an award (third runner-up) in an environmental competition held by the provincial administration at that time. Since then, it has collected an average 2 tons of plastics, papers, cardboard boxes and metals every month. The bank then sells the waste to middlemen or recycling centers.

The bank even sold sorted waste to enterprises in China from 2012 to 2014 before buyers closed their recycling factories.

Malaka Sari’s founder Prakoso, a retired employee of state-owned company Telekomunikasi Indonesia, said his initial goal was to remove the foul smell from a landfill in the area. “We wanted, at the time, to turn that into a better place for waste,” Prakoso added.

The bank now has 516 customers ranging from various backgrounds, including a wealthy businessman who is happy to travel as far as Bekasi in West Java to drop off rubbish at Malaka Sari.

The banks is run by 11 volunteers, most of whom are retired like Prakoso and help the bank maintain a healthy cash flow.

While it’s often difficult for the bank to make profit, Prakoso said, “We never have problems in paying our customers back for their trash.”

Over the past nine years, Malaka Sari has won many prestigious awards from regional and national administrations.

In 2017, it won “the best waste bank” in the country by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Prakoso has twice won the Kalpataru, an award given by Jakarta’s administration for recognizing efforts to save the environment, in 2008 and 2013.

Prakoso attributed the bank’s success so far to support given by local residents for the initiative.

“The key is the people around the waste bank. Here [Malaka Sari], people do it with soul,” he said. “Indonesia is the second-biggest plastic waste producer after China and I am sad to hear that even in the Thousand Islands region in Jakarta, there is at least 1 metric ton of waste per day washed into the ocean.”

Maggot, Hero for Food Waste

The Jakarta Globe visited another environmental activist about 35 kilometers from Malaka Sari in Depok, West Java, named Aminudi, who runs Biomagg, a food waste management company.

Biomagg founder and chief executive Aminudi. (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)
Biomagg founder and chief executive Aminudi. (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)

“I was a catfish breeder and spotted a big problem when feeding the fish with commercial fodder. It was so expensive that I couldn’t continue doing the business,” Aminudi said. “At that time, breeders were pushed to sell catfish at very low prices to tengkulak [middleman agents].”

Aminudi, 27, established Biomagg nearly one and a half years ago with the vision of creating better food waste management around Depok and Jakarta.

The Bogor Institute of Agriculture alumnus now has three centers for managing food waste, including one located near Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in East Jakarta and another in Pamulang, South Tangerang, Banten.

Biomagg’s core business model is to turn food waste into two valuable outputs; compost and fodder.

“All [food waste] is gone. Yes, it will all be gone,” said Aminudi, explaining that all food waste will turn into compost after being eaten by black soldier fly’s maggots.

“The black soldier fly is special, it’s not a pest and doesn’t carry disease,” he said. “And its meal is only water,” he added.

Aminudi sells the maggots for animal feed, while compost resulting from food waste is sold as fertilizer. He sells 250 grams of dried maggots for Rp 20,000 ($1.40), about 25 percent to 33 percent of the price of commercial fodders available on the market.

Food waste problem is rather serious in big cities, Aminudi said, noting that 2,600 tons of food is wasted per day in Jakarta alone, while in Depok, food waste can reach 400 tons per day.

“Of those great amounts, nearly all is buried in landfills with no further processing,” he said.

The most populous country in Southeast Asia is the world’s second-largest food waster after Saudi Arabia, throwing away nearly 300 kilograms of food per person each year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“I have also noticed a wrong lifestyle in Indonesia. People like to dump out food either in restaurants or even at food markets. Too many food products are wasted,” Aminudi said.

In the future, Aminudi plans to establish an organic waste bank.

“Can you imagine in every urban hamlet, people have their own waste bank for food waste? It would be a good idea,” he said.

Government’s Role in Managing Waste Is Too Weak

Biomagg can manage only 500 kilograms of food waste per day, according to Aminudi, which is incapable of meeting all of Depok’s needs. Worse, he says the government has not played a big enough role.

“Almost in every region in Indonesia, the government’s budget for waste is spent only on transporting rubbish to landfills. That is not managing waste, it’s just throwing rubbish,” Aminudi said.

“Our government does not care about rubbish, as you can see those waste banks are actually run by grassroots societies instead,” he added.

Prakoso said that though Malaka Sari has won many awards and has been around for a long time, public servants rarely visit, adding that since its establishment, the government has only provided him with a plastic-processing machine.

“It was too small, I expect the government to help us better. We never receive any grants in cash from them,” he said. “Ironically, private companies have often supported us better than the government,” he added.

Consumer goods producer Unilever, which helped Malaka Sari with capital and equipment between 2008-2010, also supports 368 waste banks in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

During regional elections, Prakoso often showed support for candidates who expressed a desire in supporting waste banks. However, no such support has ever been extended.

He said that in the most recent Jakarta gubernatorial election, candidates such as Djarot Saiful Hidayat, Sylviana Murni and now-Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno visited Malaka Sari.

“Sandiaga came here and promised to give us more support, but maybe we’re not yet his top priority now,” he said.

Prakoso says he has welcomed high profile figures both locally and internationally who are interested about his waste bank. (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)
Prakoso says he has welcomed high profile figures both locally and internationally who are interested in his waste bank. (JG Photo/Amal Ganesha)

Luhut Sinaga, head of enterprise empowerment at the Ministry of Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises, said the government has been involved in community-level waste management.

The ministry has long been a supporter of waste banks, which number around 4,000 in the country. “We aim to convert waste banks into cooperatives and we’ve done it. We are more about the business side of it, not environmental,” Luhut said.

By converting to cooperatives, waste banks have a better chance to access the government’s subsidized loan program (KUR), which they can use to expand their business, Luhut said.

“In Jakarta, there are currently 420 units of waste banks for inorganic waste. And the good example of waste banks who operate as cooperatives are in Malang [East Java], where there are 560 units,” he said.

“From what we have learned from Malang, it has become very clean because people like to pick up rubbish to convert it into money,” Luhut said.