Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling

Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
A tree is pictured among the rubbish at Bangun village in Mojokerto, East Java province, Indonesia, July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

BANGUN, Indonesia: Indonesia's crackdown on imported foreign waste has upset the village of Bangun, where residents say they earn more money sorting through piles of garbage than growing rice in once-lush paddy fields.

Overwhelmed by a spike in waste imports after China closed its doors to foreign garbage, Indonesia has tightened import rules and customs inspections, sending hundreds of tonnes of foreign waste back to their origin countries.

READ: The Indonesian village being buried by the developed world’s waste

READ: Indonesia to return 49 containers of waste to Europe, US

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
A worker uses waste to burn as fuel at tofu factory in Sidoarjo, East Java province, Indonesia, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Green groups praised the crackdown, but Bangun residents say restricting trash from countries like the United States, Canada and Australia will wipe out a key source of income.

"If they're going to forbid us from this, there must be a solution. The government hasn't provided us jobs," said Heri Masud as he took a break from sifting through rubbish piled high around the village of 3,600 people.

The front and backyards of homes in Bangun overflow with waste on land that once had been used to grow rice.

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
Plastics sorted inside a basket are pictured at a collecting site in Mojokerto, East Java province, Indonesia, August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Villagers look for plastic and aluminium to sell to recycling firms. Tofu makers also buy waste to burn as fuel when making the soy-based food.

Masud said the money from sorting trash is used to fund activities such as sending villagers on the Haj pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites in Saudi Arabia.

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
Kusmani, a 55-year-old woman who has been a scavenger for more than 20 years, holds a used can as she sorts rubbish at Bangun village in Mojokerto, East Java province, Indonesia, July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

"Every year 17-20 people from this village go on a Haj. That's funded from this waste," he said.

Salam, 54, said recycled rubbish paid for his children's schooling, and also bought a house for his family and livestock. 

"I have nine goats now," said Salam, who works as a waste broker between villagers and a nearby paper factory and says his job is easier than farming.

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
Salam, 54, a scavenger and waste broker, pulls off a net from his paddy field as he prepares to harvest in Mojokerto, East Java province, Indonesia, August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
​​​​​​​

READ: Commentary: Recycling makes you feel less guilty but doesn’t change how huge our plastic problem is

READ: G20 agrees to tackle ocean plastic waste

While it may be more lucrative, the piles of garbage are a threat to villagers' health, environmentalists say.

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
Rayhan Fastabichul Khoirot, five-years-old, walks as he plays on a pile of rubbish at Bangun village in Mojokerto, East Java province, Indonesia, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Research by the green group ECOTON found microplastics had polluted groundwater in Bangun and in the nearby Brantas river used for drinking water by 5 million people in the area.

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
A worker fries tofu, burning waste for fuel at a home-run business in Sidoarjo, East Java province, Indonesia, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Indonesia imported 283,000 tonnes of plastic waste last year, up 141 per cent from a year earlier. The country is the second biggest contributor of plastic pollutants in the world's oceans, according to a 2015 study.

Domestic waste is also a problem.

Indonesia generates 105,000 tonnes of solid municipal waste everyday in urban areas, with only 15 per cent recycled, said a World Bank report in June. Many city landfills are near capacity and beaches around the archipelago are often strewn with rubbish.

The Wider Image: Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
A fisherman throws fish, caught from Brantas river, onto the land in Mojokerto, East Java province, Indonesia, July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

"We already know that Indonesia is dirty, and now America is adding their rubbish," Prigi Arisandi, executive director of ECOTON, said at a recent rally outside the US consulate general in Surabaya in East Java.

Indonesia has launched a plan to reduce marine plastic debris by 70 per cent by 2025, pledging to spend US$1 billion, but it is unclear how much progress has been made.

The government is behind schedule for setting up waste-to-energy plants, while a plan to impose a levy on plastic bags is facing strong opposition from the plastic industry.

Source: Reuters/ad

Bookmark