Villagers upset over Jakarta crackdown on trash imports

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 padi 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.

Green groups praised the crackdown, but Bangun residents say restricting trash from countries such as 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 with jobs," said Mr 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 was used to grow rice. Villagers look for plastic and aluminium to sell to recycling firms. Tofu makers also buy waste to burn as fuel when making the soya-based food.

Mr Heri 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. "Every year, 17 to 20 people from this village go on a haj. That's funded from this waste."

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

But environmentalists say the piles of garbage are a threat to villagers' health. Research by green group Ecoton found that microplastics had polluted groundwater in Bangun and in the nearby Brantas River used for drinking water by five million people in the area.

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.

A World Bank report in June said the country generates 105,000 tonnes of solid municipal waste every day in urban areas, with only 15 per cent recycled.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2019, with the headline 'Villagers upset over Jakarta crackdown on trash imports'. Print Edition | Subscribe