Life

David Kuper: Meet Mr.
Waste

Courtesy of Anna Leitenstorfer

After spending most of his life working for the Swiss chemical industry, David Kuper never thought he would end up leading a project that would earn him the nickname of Pak Sampah, Mr. Waste.

But Kuper, who had enough resources to retire at 54, was ready to give his life a new direction when an opportunity came up to lead one of the most innovative environmental initiative currently carried out in Bali — the Temesi waste management program in Gianyar regency.

He immediately saw potential in this compost-making project in the Ubud area and decided to accept
the challenge.

 “Had I known all the hassles and problems I would encounter, I would have never taken on the challenge,” he now admits with a smile.

The project ended up being very successful, receiving recognition from the Indonesian government in 2004 and the United Nations Environment Program in 2008. Today it also funded by the Kyoto Protocol and may be considered a model for similar projects in Indonesia and overseas.  

Kuper praises good teamwork for the success of the project, which helps cut greenhouse emissions, support local labor and raise environmental awareness through education.

“I initiated the project to start with,” he humbly says. “Now, I’m mostly a mentor… having handed over all initiatives and responsibilities to the project staff to ensure sustainability. This works because the employees – from managers to workers – do an exceptional job in a productive work environment.”

Today 90 percent of the waste produced in the regency is processed in the facility located in Temesi and the compost produced is sold to the private market. An environmental educational park was also set up within the waste management facility by restoring the old landfill.

As Kuper says proudly, the key to this project’s success is a combination of practical problem solving, such as compost making and waste management, and the need to raise awareness about environmental issues.

However the project, which started in 2002, was not implemented overnight. One of the first challenges was finding a piece of land to start the pilot plant.

“We had many problems finding land because nobody wanted a waste management facility next to their place. People claimed it would attract rats, smell and produce toxic emissions. Then, the regency of Gianyar [administration] heard about the program and offered us some land.”

But there wasn’t enough funding for the waste collection nor for the campaign to raise people’s awareness.

“We only had the money to make a basic waste recycling facility. That’s what we started in 2004.”

Little by little, the project expanded and obtained greater support from the local community, especially when the educational park was created.

He believes the project will receive more investment when it perceived as a viable business.

“As for now, the investment risk is still too high for the government or private companies, but this
will change.”

Mr Waste’s predictions are likely to prove correct. In fact, stricter regulations on waste management introduced by regional governments in Indonesia will eventually be implemented in upcoming years and projects like the one in Temesi will gain further support.

Transparency, he says, is another key aspect of the project’s sustainability.

“We receive money from the Kyoto Protocol for making compost so we need to record everything very carefully,” he explains.

The project’s composting production process qualifies it as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Gianyar Waste Management facility also comes under a carbon trading scheme, selling carbon credits to customers of Swiss tour operator Kuoni, so travelers can reduce their carbon footprint when taking a plane.

“This experience has taught me a lot,” Kuper says. “Not only about environmental issues but
also about working in different cultural settings.”

However, he realizes there are universal principles that must be applied in any working environment, regardless of the kind of project or place it is implemented.

“For a project to be successful, all people involved must be committed, directly involved and feel a sense of ownership towards the project. Otherwise, the project simply collapses when external resources dry up.”

In this sense, Pak Sampah considers himself very lucky as he is surrounded by very motivated people who are actively working to make this project progress.

“I built a team that became independent and has a lot of power for innovation and [organizational]
regeneration if somebody leaves. The organizational chart is a flexible one: we don’t put people into
boxes, but put boxes around people’s capabilities.”

The Temesi-Gianyar Waste Facility project has come a long way, but there is still room for improvement.

“After seven years working on this project, I am quite satisfied with what we have achieved,” he says. “Maybe now it would be interesting to channel more energy in the environmental park.”

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