Waste almost always causes problems. Apart from being dirty, it can also lead to bad odors.
For decades, people in the village of Nangsri, Pundong, Bantul, Yogyakarta, have had to deal with the problems caused by waste residue from the cassava processing industry.
The village has long been known as a center for home industries that process cassava into tapioca flour, which is then used as a raw material for making noodles, crackers and various other snacks. At least 70 households are involved in these traditional industries.
There's no doubt that either in the form of liquids or solids, large quantities of waste are generated every day. Because there is such a limited capacity to store collected waste, people throw their garbage into the yard or the nearest ditch.
Consequently, the smell of reeking waste permeates the environment, and water sources as well as wells have been contaminated. Fortunately, creative minds have put their grey cells to use and found practical ways to solve these problems.
It turns out foul-smelling waste can be processed into raw materials for a drink, which is called nata de cassava. The style and color of this product is similar to the type of beverage that has long been circulating in the market, known as nata de coco. Just as nata de coco comes from fermented coconut, nata de cassava is fermented tapioca waste.
However, a slightly different process is used; the fermentation of cassava waste takes longer, because processing carbohydrates into sugar through fermentation is slower.
The successful use of waste by transforming it into a drink did not go unnoticed by a team from Gadjah Mada University (UGM), which has been conducting research into the use of tapioca waste in villages for almost a year.
A prototype tapioca waste treatment plant prepared by the scientific research team - Cassava I - won the Innovative Entrepreneurship Challenge competition organized by the Bandung Institute of Technology, in collaboration with telco company Indosat last year.
The idea of making nata de cassava actually came about 18 months ago, though it wasn't put into practice until about a year later.
"You see before launching, we had to conduct laboratory tests first," explained Margianto, a scientist in the UGM Cassava team and the director of the Four Pillars firm that has been actively assisting the Pundong community in the treatment of tapioca waste. Making the cassava drink is far from simple.
The waste, which is left over from the pulp manufacture of tapioca flour, is mixed and stirred with water. It is then filtered through a coarse cloth. The liquid is given a stimulant before being placed in trays.
It is then sealed and left on the shelves to be aired for approximately one week. Nata de cassava is considered ready when it turns into a solid to rubbery substance, similar to jelly. To turn them into a beverage, the sheets of nata de cassava must be cooked three times to remove their acid content.
The nata is then ready to be used as the basic ingredient for a beverage. Small cubes are cut and mixed with sugar or syrup. Nata de cassava is then ready to consume when mixed with syrup or sugar water.
The finished product is fresh and good for digestion as it contains nutrients in the form of crude fiber. Every 100 grams of nata de cassava contains 1.71 percent of fiber.
"Use this drink when breaking fasts - it is very suitable. It can be refreshing and neutralize digestion problems," Margianto continued. Although it's a relatively new product, consumers have quickly accepted it.
For example, Asngari, one of the workers making nata de cassava, said 1.5 tons, or 1,500 portions were sold each day, each portion costing Rp 750 (80 US cents).
The buyers, apart from locals in the surrounding communities, also include the manufacturers of packaged beverages.
"We sell the raw product, not the packaged drinks. The buyers then package them as drinks," he said.
For example, CV Agrindo Suprafood, a beverage-packaging company based in Bantul, has signed a purchase and sale contract to buy up to 80 tons of the product every week.
"But that target is not being met because the number of manufacturers is still small," Margianto said.
Not all home industries use tapioca waste to make nata de cassava.
About half of the 30 or so home industries are involved in this process. They claim they are still constrained because they can't buy the required equipment.
"Maybe if they already have their own equipment they can start making the drink. To start the business, they need capital of at least Rp 2 million," said Pariyem, 31, who also processes tapioca. Nata de cassava products are full potential. There are still very few players in the market and an abundance of raw materials available in the Yogyakarta area.
The process has attracted the attention of Bantul Regent Idham Samawi, who is supporting development efforts.
"In the near future even Pak Idham plans to build a special packaging factory," Margianto said. The discovery of a system to process waste into another material has also had a positive impact on the local community.
In addition to increasing the income of small businesses, it is also creating new economic markets and in the future will create new job opportunities.