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Yogyakartan pioneers local plastic waste upcycling movement

Bambang Muryanto

The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta  /  Mon, February 11, 2019  /  04:05 pm
Yogyakartan pioneers local plastic waste upcycling movement

Upcycling: Boy Candra pulls a PVC pipe out of a vacuum to be fed into a cutter. (JP/Bambang Muryanto)

Boy Candra was helping his colleague pull a PVC pipe out of a vacuum cooler when the secondhand machine hit a snag on an afternoon at the end of January. 

“It happens often,” he said lightly.

Fifty-three-year-old Boy is an entrepreneur whose business is centered on plastic waste. He has a PVC pipe factory, which uses old and used pipe waste as material, in Bantul, Yogyakarta.

“I buy the material from 10 plastic waste collectors,” Boy said.

After sorting, the plastic waste is ground and then milled into powder for the production of PVC pipes.

Boy said his business served as a minor contribution to the problem of plastic waste that is hard to break down and mostly ends up in the ocean, killing marine life who ingest or become entangled in it.

Claire Le Guern in an article titled “When the Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide” on quotes global industry analysts stating that global plastic consumption has been increasing, with 297.5 million tons produced in 2015.

Plastic demand for food and beverage packaging is on the rise because of its relatively low price, strength and flexibility, but growing plastic consumption should be followed up by proper processing to prevent pollution, as Boy has shown.

Boy is upcycling by turning plastic waste into a new product that is more useful and lasts for a longer amount of time.

Upcycling strives to achieve zero plastic waste, which distinguishes it from ordinary recycling that mixes plastic waste with other materials for conversion into a new product that lasts only for a short period.

“If plastic waste is processed into a new product by combining it with other materials, it will be difficult to recycle it when it becomes waste again, as it is difficult to extract nonplastic materials,” he said.

Boy started this business after his car workshop in Jakarta closed down and he moved to Yogyakarta in 2003.

After reflecting at Ganjuran Catholic Church, he found a new vocation in plastic waste treatment.

“Yogyakarta has changed and its population is becoming more prosperous, so the amount of plastic waste produced is on the rise,” he pointed out.

At first, he only ground plastic waste and sold it to buyers in Jakarta.

In 2015, Boy went a step further and began producing PVC pipes from PVC waste, which is the toughest plastic to recycle.

Today, his factory can produce 2,000 PVC pipes a day, which are lower in price than nonupcycled pipes, while he employs around 50 people who search for plastic waste.

“Plastic waste means money and I buy it at a fairly high price,” he said.

Among those blessed by the waste is married couple Mudakir and Sri Musati.

Sri, who once sold vegetables from her house near Boy’s factory, has now become a plastic waste collector after taking advice from the entrepreneur five years ago.

Mudakir said his family now had a better life and had bought a pickup truck to transport plastic waste.

“Now we can pay our debts and meet our daily needs. We used to work the whole day but now we have more regular working hours,” he revealed.

Upcycling plastic waste on a large scale is difficult if handled alone. It requires support from various parties to make the business feasible, such as through government policy and entrepreneurs through investment.

“Upcycling also has to cooperate with other industries,” Mudakir said.

Meanwhile, Iwan Wijono, a performing artist and supporter of the Indonesian Upcycle Forum, has been inviting many parties including Boy to join the “Zero Waste, International Upcycle Festival” slated for 2020 in Yogyakarta.

The festival will serve as a medium to “brainwash” the public about the importance of solving the plastic waste problem and achieving zero waste.

The program has three aims, which are to popularize and educate on waste and the environment, hold a workshop on processing techniques for various kinds of waste and display products made from waste.

The event is scheduled to take place over 10 days and will also present dances, theater and wayang (shadow puppet) shows as well as music and art performances.

“If possible the results of this program will be compiled into a book,” Iwan said.

He also expressed hope that the festival would have an extensive impact, such as a change in waste regulations and prompt schools to teach about plastic waste recycling.

Iwan criticized human civilization as suicidal for being unable to resolve the problem of plastic waste in a holistic and zero-waste manner.

Plastic materials have contaminated human food and killed marine life. A 9.5-meter-long sperm whale was found dead on Kapota Island, Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi on November 18, 2018 with 5.9 kilograms of plastic waste in its stomach.

In Yogyakarta, the management of a mangrove forest on Baros Beach has also complained about the large amounts of plastic waste carried by the Opak River, which frequently obstructed the growth of mangrove seedlings along the shore.

“If necessary, we will also perform a ritual as a gesture of apology to the river at the festival. Formerly, men offered flowers to nature but now they dump plastic waste,” Iwan, who in 1996 was renowned for his Manusia Hijau (Green Men) performance, said. (hdt)