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Burning Issues: CLEAR transforms village life

Wandering around the villages of Java at sunset or sunrise, one of the most striking things is the acrid smell of burning waste. CLEAR Community is helping villages stop this pollution.

Current waste disposal

Outside the front of almost every family’s house will be a pile of burning leaves and rubbish, including dozens of black plastic bags which are handed out at every small shop (‘warung’). The fumes from the burning plastic get in your eyes and your nose and make it hard to breathe. It’s hard to ignore, but for most rural and urban Indonesians the acrid smell and accompanying pollution is just a part of daily life. The rubbish pile, made by a family or a shop, is usually burnt in the early morning or at sunset before the wind picks up because there is no local waste collection service. Every day Indonesia generates around 190,000 tonnes of waste, with plastic waste estimated at 25,000 tonnes per day, much of that waste ending up in the ocean.

Creating a pollution-free future

Now there is a village in West Java which is not regularly polluted by the smell of burning plastic: Sanghiangkalang. Walking through this village today, it’s clear something has transformed it. At the front of several houses are rows and rows of various kinds of potted spinach: water spinach, bok choy, and red spinach.  The spinach is all being grown from the food waste, which instead of being thrown into a communal rubbish pit (which would then be lightly buried in soil) is now being used to power the plants. Organic waste makes up to one third of Indonesia’s massive waste problem.

How did this transformation happen?

Two years ago, Sanghiangkalang set up a recycling and sorting centre after receiving training from CLEAR on waste management. CLEAR’s consultant Pak Muharam, along with the Institute of Technology in Bandung, local government officials and members of local women’s groups, held a three-day workshop on waste management. Pak Muharam has mentored dozens of villages across Indonesia to adopt various kinds of waste recycling. He says the pace of change has been astonishing.

“One day in the workshop I would explain how to make eco-bricks out of water bottles and the next day Amir and his daughter would begin making them. I’ve never seen a village adopt these changes so quickly” said Muharam. He added that having two passionate champions for the adoption of waste sorting and recycling was key to getting the whole village to adopt it. Being young and relatively well educated meant that Amir and his wife, Ani, were open to new ideas.

Ani was also able to mobilize the power of the Family Welfare Group (PKK), a voluntary women’s group which works to promote health initiatives and village development in more than 66,000 villages across Indonesia. The women from PKK were keen to become involved after having previously worked with CLEAR on an innovative new campaign around littering during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

New ideas around burning waste

Amir says that through the activities of the waste bank people are starting to consider the impact of rubbish on their environment and their health.

“Many people don’t even think burning waste is bad for their health” he says. He has begun advising people not to burn rubbish close to where their children play as the effects are just as bad as smoking. Instead he asks them to consider recycling and joining the waste bank.

Other families who have joined the waste bank are happy to have much tidier houses. “The women are very proud of their houses here in Sanghiangkalang, they feel that everyone looks at their front yard and thinks how clean it is,” says Ani. “These houses have become examples for everyone,” she adds.

As well as a thriving vegetable garden, another motivator for joining the waste bank is the small additional income. The women are earning an additional 20,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about £1) per week, as well as growing their own vegetables from the organic food waste, hence saving money.

Ani says the concept of living in a healthy environment and not having children play in local yards littered with plastic or inhaling plastic fumes each day is another motivator for women to join the waste bank.

1 comment

  1. Margaret Bedford-Leahong 6 months ago April 14, 2021

    Well done to all in this report. The fires were an issue in the fishing village of Batukaras. It may feel like small steps at times but they are steps that are leading the way, especially in a society without a waste infrastructure.
    Continue the good work.
    Maggie Bedford-Leahong

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