Green entrepreneurs tackle Indonesia's growing trash mountains

People searching through garbage looking for material to recycle at Bantar Gebang landfill in Bekasi, West Java province, on March 2, 2016.
People searching through garbage looking for material to recycle at Bantar Gebang landfill in Bekasi, West Java province, on March 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Some residents of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, frustrated by the mounting trash problem across the sprawling metropolis, have started taking matters into their own hands.

Hamidi, a young "green entrepreneur" became so concerned by the overflowing Jakarta city dump that he began turning discarded plastic into fuel.

"At the very beginning I just wanted to start a business,"said Hamidi, who started his waste-to-energy initiative a year ago in Tangerang, a satellite city about 25km west of Jakarta.

"But through the process I learned about the increasing trash problem in the environment and I thought this is a problem that needs to be resolved," said Hamidi.

He is one voice among a only a small group of individuals and non-government organisations who have stepped in to manage waste and who have called on local authorities to help fund similar projects.

Hamidi recycles 25kg of waste daily by burning plastic and distilling the resulting vapour into liquid fuel. Most households in metropolitan Jakarta either don't recycle at all or are serviced by individual scavengers who pick up trash to sell to recycling plants.

Indonesia is among the world's biggest generators of plastic waste. Greater Jakarta alone, with more than 10 million residents, generates enough trash to fill several football fields every day.

A landfill on the outskirts of the city receives more than 6,000 tonnes of trash from Jakarta every day but its waste-treatment facilities are struggling to keep pace, resulting in mountains of trash that pose environmental and health risks.

With Jakarta and other cities facing growing problems as they run out of space, the central government plans to open up the waste management sector to foreign investment.

Experts say such a move could bring much-needed new technology and expertise.

Last month, the government rolled out rules requiring stores in several cities to charge customers for plastic bags. However, the fee of just 200 rupiah (S$0.02) per bag is unlikely to be an effective deterrent.

"The government is doing too little not just with plastic, but also general waste management," said Marco Kusumawijaya of the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta. "Plastic bags should be banned totally at this point ... and the government should make it possible for small-scale initiatives to be upscaled," he said.