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Trash for gold: Jakarta’s waste bank rewards residents for trading in recyclables

Trash for gold: Jakarta’s waste bank rewards residents for trading in recyclables

Every fortnight, residents in Bermis Gading in North Jakarta deposit recyclables at their local waste bank. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

JAKARTA: How many aluminium cans can get you 1g of gold?

In North Jakarta, the trade-in value of 70kg of aluminium cans – around 4,500 empty cans – is equivalent to 1g of gold at the Wijaya Kusuma Waste Bank.

Other recyclables such as cardboard and plastic bottles are also accepted by the programme initiated by the Bermis Gading neighbourhood in January last year.

The waste bank was set up with a simple mission – to encourage the locals to recycle and reduce waste. After residents deposit recyclables here, the waste bank would clean and sell them to the North Jakarta government.

In April this year, pawnshop PT Pegadaian offered to collaborate with this waste bank – and four other waste banks in Jakarta – by rewarding the residents with gold.

Mdm Roswanthy Suweden (second from right) has been a regular customer of the waste bank since its inception in January 2018. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

Mdm Roswanthy Suweden, 67, is one of the serious participants of the programme. She has collected enough recyclables to receive more than 10g of gold.

“I’m happy. I save little by little, and over time I have a lot. The gold is for my children and grandchildren,” she told CNA at the waste bank.

Head of North Jakarta environment agency Mr Slamet Riyadi applauded the idea of offering gold as an incentive to recycle.

Women, who usually manage the households, will find the scheme attractive, he said.

The recyclables collected by Bermis Gading residents are sold to the North Jakarta government. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

“Before it worked together with the pawnshop, it had around 34 or 36 customers (residents who took part in the programme). But since the partnership, the number increased to 105,” Mr Riyadi said.

Besides Jakarta, similar “trash for gold” schemes are also found in other Indonesian cities like Palembang, Bandar Lampung and Makassar.

The initiative is lauded by environmentalists as a small step toward instilling green awareness in Indonesia, the world’s second-largest contributor of plastic pollutants in the oceans after China.

READ: Commentary - When did Southeast Asia become a dumping ground for waste?


The Wijaya Kusuma Waste Bank, which is managed by a couple of housewives of the neighbourhood, is open on alternate Tuesdays from 9am to noon.

Once residents arrive with their bagsful of waste, the items will be weighed and recorded in their saving books as well as the waste bank’s system.

Depending on the amount and type of trash, the customers will receive cash from the officers on duty.

One kilogram of cardboard, for example, is priced at 1,200 rupiah (US$ 0.08), while 1kg of clean plastic bottles is worth 3,000 rupiah.

Aluminum cans are considered the most valuable, with every kilogram priced at 10,000 rupiah.

If the residents have their eyes set on the big prize – gold – then they have to surrender the cash to the pawnshop staffer present on site.

Once the residents have saved enough for 5g of gold based on the market value, they can visit the pawnshop to take home the gold. One gram of gold is valued at around 700,000 rupiah currently.

The attractive scheme has piqued the interest of the not just housewives, but also men.

Mr Muhammad Supardi, a 70-year-old retiree, said he enjoyed taking part in the programme.

“I like to support the government’s programme… If the trash is still worthy, why not give it to them?” he said.

Retiree Mr Muhammad Supardi is pleased to take part in the scheme. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

The programme has also attracted office workers who drop by the waste bank before going to work.  

“I’m participating in the scheme to reduce waste. Some of the housewives told me I can take part in the saving programme here, rather than throwing away my garbage,” said Mr Indra, who was visiting the waste bank for the first time.

READ: Indonesia accuses two Singaporeans over imported plastic waste


Considering the amount of recyclables one needs to collect before he will receive the gold, the waste bank does not have much financial value to the residents, said Mr Budi Winarko, one of the founders of the Wijaya Kusuma Waste Bank.  

Nonetheless, what is important for the waste bank is to promote environmental awareness in this neighbourhood of 360 houses.

“Our short-term goal is to have more customers, but our long-term goal is to have zero waste,” Mr Winarko said.

People amassing more waste so to trade them for gold is acceptable, he said, as long as residents are educated on the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling.

The waste bank's vehicle picking up recyclables in the Bermis Gading neighbourhood. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

The waste bank also sends a vehicle to collect recyclables every fortnight from those who do not have time to haul the items to its premises.

For pawnshop PT Pegadaian, its partnership with waste banks has a marketing benefit.

“By selling their waste to the waste bank, the residents can have savings in the form of gold with us. They can then browse and shop our products,” PT Pegadaian Jakarta auditor Mr Margono told CNA.

Bermis Gading resident Mdm Sulistiowati is thrilled after receiving 5g of gold at the pawnshop. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

Bermis Gading resident Mdm Sulistiowati exchanged her savings for 5g of gold last Tuesday (Oct 8).

“I am very happy, especially when this (the gold) comes from something which is otherwise worthless. The result is extraordinary – gold,” she said.

READ: 'My house is full of garbage' - In West Java, imported waste worsens living conditions of villagers

READ: Indonesia's parliament delays approval for levy on plastic bags


These waste banks raise awareness on the importance of waste segregation, which is not common in Indonesia, said Greenpeace Indonesia’s environmentalist Mr Muharram Atha Rasyadi.

He opined that success of the waste banks is dependent on the efforts spent to educate the residents, bearing in mind that not all types of waste can be recycled, especially plastic.

Initiatives like this also need to be supported by other green habits, he added. An example being composting organic waste, which constitutes the majority of household waste.

Wijaya Kusuma Waste Bank staffs cleaning the plastic bottles. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

However small the impact may be, the waste banks are slowly changing people’s habits, one resident at a time.

Mdm Roswanthy Suweden, who has been a regular customer at the Wijaya Kusuma Waste Bank since its inception, said getting rid of her trash at the waste bank means more than just saving up for gold.

“My house is now clean and tidy. What used to be piled in my storeroom, I have sold to this waste bank,” she said.

Source: CNA/ks(tx)


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