The Waste Conundrum
Updated: May 24
Since 2015, every leader from DKI Governor to Indonesian President declares urgency in the need to manage our wastes responsibly. Many talks, forum group discussions, new regulations has been introduced, retracted, and reintroduced. Fast Forward to end of 2020, not much has been done.
This is not to say that the public fails to participates. Everyone from politicians, the public, the NGO’s, the regional government, and every ministries has pledged commitment, plant tree, clear beaches, organises conferences. Awareness is abound. But, when it come to sign the bill for one major waste management infrastructure, everyone stop short at costs: “too expensive, can-not afford it”. What is not being so highlighted is the costs of the alternatives: do nothing.
To Pay or Not To Pay?
Every Mayor (Walikota) and Regent (Bupati) in Indonesia can learn from Jakarta. It has provided us with an excellent case study of why delaying decision to manage waste is expensive. Since 1989, the Cities has relies on a single landfill, the Bantargebang Landfill. This is a 120hectares of nightmare to the people around its site, it has effectively reduces the quality of life of the residents in the area with its offensive odour. Yet, everyone from its governor, DPRD, populations, seems comfortable with this timebomb. Perhaps because it is located in City of Bekasi, with very little potential of disturbing Jakarta’s elite.
I challenge university academies and NGO to study the real costs of Bantargebang landfill. Adding externalities, such as environmental damages: water, air, sanitation and human health, and future liabilities, into the real costs. One would quickly be more open to see why the costs of waste management are something that this republic must concern. Without such information, this nation is in danger of becoming a short-termist and enjoys this debt while our children must pay the future environmental costs of 25 years of rotting wastes, on on-going.
Without even adding externalities, Jakarta’s costs of maintaining Bantargebang has sky rocketed. Jakarta’s budget for management of its wastes reaches Rp 2,98trillion in 2018 to cover for (a) Voluntary Compensation for Negative Impact (Kompensasi Dampak Negatif Sukarela); (b) Mandatory Compensation for Negative Impact (Kompensasi Dampak Negatif Wajib); (c) Landfill Management & Operational Costs (Biaya Pengelolaan TPST Bantargebang) and (d) Costs to Transport Wastes (Biaya Transportasi Sampah). Assuming a 7,000 ton per day deliveries, this is already equivalent to Rp1,166,341 per ton of waste or USD 83 per ton. Not far off from Singapore’s Incinerator.
Essentially, Jakarta has spent approximately the same amount of money per ton in 2018 compared to Singapore, but the economic and ecological performance are in stark contrasts. Whereas Singapore are able to reduce its future liabilities significantly. Jakarta left a massive time bomb to the resident of Bekasi. Ground water contamination will continue for at least 10 years since the waste is dumped, not to mention the potential dioxin if such waste catches fires due to its methane buildup. If you adds up these costs, Jakarta will in future spend more money per ton of waste than Singapore to pay negative compensation to Bekasi. This concepts of negative compensation is unending.
To burn or not to burn?
The general public are often confronted with the question of to burn or not to burn? Many environmentalist NGO has spread the notion that burning waste should only be done in hell.
The right answer is, however, not that simple. Burning with Energy Recovery is the most effective way of getting rid of waste volume and footprint, a major issue when your area are the size of Singapore or Tokyo, and increasingly, Jakarta.
The principle of best practice waste management is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Energy Recovery, Landfill”. In that order. So, obviously – Energy Recovery through burning or other methods that meets environmental standards has its place in the best practice of waste management.
Every professional who has worked in this sector, who claimed to work for the betterment of environment, must know and live by this principle. What often is not done is to short-cut this principle and head straight to burn or to landfill, and worse doing it without concern to the environment.
To Recycle or Not to Recycle
Many NGO and academia in the media has cited that the reason why we should not undertake combustion for Energy Recovery is because we need to recycle.
On this, we need to look at the case study from those whom we thought does much better than Indonesia in managing wastes. The advance nations from the United States to Australia, has given us ample examples what recycling does without incinerating. As soon as China stop its gate for plastic recycling, every other nation in South East Asia is receiving “recycled plastic”.
In the sector of recycling, we are still facing big problem. Recycling technology has its limit and requires high quality or non-contaminated material to be successful. As consequence only 9% of plastics are recycled, even in the most advance country. Until this is solved. You may have to either reduce your plastic consumptions, or to destroy them for energy recovery to avoid plastics being dumped into the sea.
As such, Recycling and Waste to Energy is complimentary activities – it can not be done without the other. We shall recycle as much, and destroy the remaining via energy recovery or other economic & sustainable means.
To Make Power or not Making Power
One of the reason Waste to Energy has not gain traction is that PLN has been reluctant to adopt the high power prices for Waste to Energy Project. It is true that generating power from waste is not the cheapest form of power generation. Generating power from hydropower plant is way cheaper and greener than waste to energy.
However, Waste to Energy serves two purposes, it reduces waste volume (ie managing your wastes and closing future liabilities), and it generates power. There has to be a fair sharing between poluters and PLN. Putting responsibilities on PLN alone does not solve this problem on the long run.
Public Participations & Infrastructure for Participations
The general public shall be educated to do more than just complaining about the clogged water way, the flood, and the dirty air as your neighbour burn your wastes. They must be educated that every gram of waste has impact to tax. In the case of Jakarta the costs per ton of waste is Rp1,2million per ton or equivalent to Rp1,2 per gram. So, if each glass of your bobba drink and its straw weight 200gram, your action has costs the City Rp240 per gram for handling. Similarly, if your online shopping constitutes of 500gram of packaging, then Rp600 must be collected from your seller to compensate the government to handle this wastes.
This is poluter pays principle. Such principles drives society to prefer to the outlet that reduces or avoid packaging and focuses on the quality of food rather than the packaging. Most probably everyone is willing to make purchasing decision that is more environmentally friendly given the information. But for this to be succesful, the government must create an infrastructure of which impact of public contribution are clear to see. This should not be a difficulty as we are moving toward digital society.
The Urgency to Stop Procrastination
It is well known fact that disaster costs more to recover than its prevention. The more we, as society, delays our decision to manage our wastes due to many considerations, the bigger the problem becomes, and the higher to costs to manage our pasts error.
Jakarta’s air is nowadays often ranks on the worse in the world, not just because of the traffic jam, also due to its citizens burning wastes. Toxic air and clogged river has reduces significantly quality of life, and causes flooding. This, sooner than later be reflected in exorbitant BPJS and social costs.
This waste conondrum must be clearly answered to allow someone to take the courageous decisions and overturned situations. We have done enough talks, conferences, forum, and discussions. It is time to do some real actions.
This article is written by Cynthia Hendrayani, a practicioner in the waste management sector, passionate to bring better living environment for Indonesia.