Skyscraper of waste

Greater Jakarta drowning
in mountains of trash

By Vela Andapita and Sausan Atika

Do you ever count the amount of waste you produce?

Greater Jakarta, with more than 30 million people, sends more than 14,000 tons of waste to eight landfills every day.

To put it into perspective, the waste that Greater Jakarta has produced in the past three years could fill up Jakarta’s tallest skyscraper, the 310-meter-tall Gama Tower.

The gigantic flow of trash, coupled with poor waste management, has brought the metropolitan area into a crisis.

Some of the landfills are already overloaded or face the risk of becoming overloaded. Soon, Greater Jakarta residents will run out of places to dump waste.

The crisis has affected the people living near landfills. Smelly piles of waste – comprising everything from leftover food and plastic grocery bags to used diapers – cause environmental and health disturbances.

The pungent smell of garbage is enough to numb our olfactory nerves. The wastewater flowing from these trash mountains has contaminated the groundwater, which the residents use for their daily needs.

During rainy days, the same mountains will become extra slippery and prone to falling apart. This, however, does not stop the landfill workers from operating excavators to pile the waste higher – simply because they have no other choice.

Landfills in Greater Jakarta

Other landfill - The Jakarta Post Other landfill - The Jakarta Post

Bogor municipality, Bogor regency, Depok and South Tangerang have been hoping to dump the waste in the newly constructed Lulut-Nambo landfill in Bogor regency. However, the facility has yet to open due to a protracted payment dispute between the contractor and the investor. Adding to that dispute is the bickering between the four regencies and municipalities that want a greater trash quota for each of their regions.

In 2018, the Public Works and Housing Ministry revitalized the Rawa Kucing landfill in Tangerang by making it a sanitary landfill where the trash is compressed and buried in a pit with a protected bottom to allow it to decompose into biologically and chemically inert materials.

Bantargebang landfill in Bekasi operates a waste-to-energy plant and a composting facility.

All these innovations, however, have a limited capacity and cannot keep pace with Greater Jakarta’s ever-increasing amount of waste.

To better understand this crisis, let us meet four individuals who bear the brunt of the trash we throw away every day.

Explore the landfills through their eyes

In this journey, a reader needs to visit all four individuals in order to unlock the Solution page – which will present you with simple things that we can do to ease their burden.
MAP Drown in Waste - The Jakarta Post
Bantargebang - The Jakarta Post
Arip Suparman - Rawakucing - The Jakarta Post

Rawa Kucing landfill, Tangerang

Total area: 35 hectares Estimated to reach
its maximum capacity this year

Arip Suparman:
The stench in my house is so unbearable my parents had to leave

Arip Suparman, 34, has to endure a foul smell and polluted water every day as he lives in his parents’ house adjacent to the Rawakucing landfill in Neglasari district, Tangerang, Banten.

Arip has lived there with his wife and child for the past year after his parents left because of their deteriorating health.

He and his parents had lived in the house for 20 years. But Arip said his parents started to suffer from asthma in 2018 and they decided to leave the house in the hope of getting fresher air, even though it forced them to rent a house in a neighboring district.

His parents said the stench from the landfill contributed to their respiratory problems.

“They wanted to protect themselves from what they believed to be the cause of their illness, the stink from the garbage dump,” Arip told The Jakarta Post.

“The stench became more unbearable so that they couldn’t stand to live in their own house anymore,” he added.

Arip has stayed behind to take care of the house while hoping someone will buy it someday.

His parents’ house is located only a few meters away from the landfill with its mountains of garbage comprising the view from their backyard.

He recalled that it was not the case in the past. The mountain of garbage used to be far away from the residential area where their house is situated as recently as two years ago.

Now, the piles of garbage are less than 300 meters from the housing complex.

He said the garbage mound had gotten closer and closer to the houses each year as the landfill overtook an empty plot behind his house.

“The garbage [dump] was once far away from this house, so the smell was not that unpleasant. But the longer I have lived here, the garbage has got closer and the stink is getting worse and worse,” he said.

The foul atmosphere has got to such an extent over the past two years that Arip and other residents have started complaining. It is so bad that nausea and vomiting are considered the “new normal” for the residents. The garbage has also brought flies into residents’ houses.

“The residents here believe their houses are no longer habitable,” Arip added.

Similar to other landfills in the Greater Jakarta area, Rawakucing landfill also faces overcapacity problems to the point where it has encroached on areas near the local houses as the management tries to expand to accommodate more garbage.

Even though the dump site has undergone several improvements, residents complain the problems arise from the poor management of the mountains of garbage.

Besides the smell, the overloaded dumpsite has also allegedly infiltrated the water wells in the area as Arip and his neighbors complain that the water coming from their faucets is sometimes blackish and malodorous, prompting them to buy water to meet their daily needs.

One of the worst affected buildings is Bio Sien Ren Kupoh temple, locally known Ema Kupoh, located next to Arip’s house.

The water discharging from the garbage heap has inundated a large part of the temple's parking lot for the past few weeks. Therefore, visitors are no longer able to park their vehicles and must enter the temple through an alley. It has resulted in many fewer visitors over the past three weeks, locals have said.

Rawakucing landfill has been operating since 1992. Initially located on a 2-hectare plot, it has now expanded to 32.8 ha. About 20.3 ha of its space is allocated to managing the garbage.

The landfill is split into two separate areas: Gate 1, which has a mountain of garbage stretching up toward the north where it reaches residential areas and Gate 2, which has garbage extending toward the east, where it has reached a local graveyard.

The landfill takes about 1,400 tons of garbage every day from approximately 2 million Tangerang residents living across 104 subdistricts.

City-operated garbage trucks carry garbage from residential areas and temporary trash disposal sites across the city to the Rawakucing landfill. Meanwhile, privately owned garbage trucks dispose of the garbage collected from restaurants and hotels, as well as Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

The excessive daily garbage has prompted Tangerang Environment Agency to collaborate with investors and city-owned company (BUMD) Tangerang Nusantara Global to build a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility located near the Rawakucing landfill.

The project is slated to begin this year and will take two to three years to build. Once completed, the garbage will be used to generate up to 700 kilowatts of electricity per 100 tons of waste every day through the facility.

(Photo: JP/P.J. Leo)

Dedi Desmita - Cipeucang - The Jakarta Post

Cipeucang landfill, South Tangerang

Total area: 13 Hectares Estimated to reach
its maximum capacity this year

Dedi Dasmita: Cleaning the street is my charity to society

Delving his hands into wet, smelly trash is something street sweeper Dedi Dasmita thinks highly of.

The 34-year-old contract worker of the South Tangerang administration has been part of the squad keeping the street near Serpong Market clean for the past four years. While most residents hastily throw away their garbage, Dedi’s job requires him to collect that garbage and sweep waste off the street to make sure the area is waste-free.

On one Friday morning, Dedi is moving garbage from the market’s dumpsite to a dump truck parked on the roadside in front of the market. With a dozen of other city cleaners, Dedi scoops garbage to the truck. Donning the green uniform T-shirt with rubber gloves and boots, he lifts up all sorts of trash, from rotten vegetables to fish cuts and plastic packaging, all wet and dirty.

For him, getting his hands dirty with piles of waste is nothing to be ashamed of. While most residents throw away their garbage to keep the house clean, he sees his job as “a good deed”, a contribution to society.

The pungent smell does not bother him anymore, as he has become accustomed to it after four years on the job.

He chose to be a contract street sweeper to be closer to his family in Serpong. Previously, he worked at a cellular operator company in Jakarta as an office boy, a job that only allowed him to go home to see his wife once a month.

While there is a stark difference in the working environment between his current and his previous job, Dedi knows that what he and his colleagues do is vital for the city.

“Many people would think that this is a dishonorable job. I think it is not,” he told The Jakarta Post in an interview after the pile of garbage had been loaded onto the truck.

“Cleaning the street is a type of alms, right?,” he said.

“I can’t donate money. What I can do is to donate my energy to clean other people’s yards.”

He and another dozen contract workers pick up garbage and sweep the streets surrounding the 8-hectare market area from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. every day.

Still, he too faces challenges in his day job, recalling that sometimes people look on him with disdain, Dedi said.

“Sometimes we argue with people. We remind them not to throw garbage haphazardly, but then they would rebuke us,” he said.

“Some people show respect, others don’t. Some support us, some don’t. That’s human nature.”

Given a task that most people would describe as "gross", the father of two stressed that maintaining cleanliness was everybody's responsibility even though some people might not fully comprehend that.

“If they get mad at us, we just ignore it. That just shows that they might not realize we are all responsible for our environment, not just us, the city cleaners. Our environment is not a trash bin,” Dedi said.

As someone who is used to the foul odor and whatever is contained in the piles of garbage, he acknowledges that he is at a higher risk of getting sick.

In 2018, a doctor diagnosed him as suffering from some kind of infection that caused small bumps all over his body. However, Dedi cannot recall the name of the disease. “I was hospitalized for a week and I had to rest for a month,” he said.

“The doctor asked me what my job was. I answered that I was a street sweeper. The doctor then replied that I should watch my health.”

Working every day in the same place also made him realize that people produce more garbage nowadays, resulting in increasing amounts of waste in the municipality, especially with many people still relying on single-use plastic bags for shopping.

“Plastic waste is now abundant,” he said.

Plastic waste was also among the piles of garbage moved to the dump truck of 6 cubic meters in capacity. Like other garbage trucks operated in the city, it will head to South Tangerang’s only landfill in Cipeucang, a 13-hectare facility at the brink of overloading.

Nearly 100 dump trucks enter the Cipeucang landfill every day.

The facility can accommodate 300 tons of the approximately 970 tons of waste a day produced by 1.8 million South Tangerang residents. The rest goes to privately owned landfills, including one operated by Abu & Co, which manages waste from the huge BSD City housing complex.

The landfill is already packed, with mounds of trash as high as 16 meters spilling over into the Cisadane River, which flows to the Java Sea.

The South Tangerang administration has announced its intention to close the facility and build a waste-to-energy plant instead. The administration has rented a section of the Nambo landfill in adjacent Bogor city, West Java, to dump its garbage.

The facility is to be able to produce up to 15-megawatt hours of electricity from a supply of 1,000 tons of waste per day. Its construction is to begin later this year and take two years.

(Photo: JP/Seto Wardhana)

Atih - Cipayung - The Jakarta Post

Cipayung landfill, Depok

Total area: 10.8 Hectares Overloaded since 2013

Atih: Scavenging helps me to repay debts for my child’s wedding

After scavenging from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., Atih takes a lunch break under a tree near one of the many waste mountains at the Cipayung landfill in Depok, West Java.

The 60-year-old woman devours her meal, gulps water from a bottle and eats several rambutans. After a one hour break, she is now charged up to continue hunting for recyclable items at the landfill site until 5 p.m.

Atih puts on her boots, gloves and caping (cone-shaped hat) and takes her scavenging tools outside. She also wraps fabric on her mouth – not to block the foul smell of the trash but to protect her face from the scorching heat at the dumpsite.

“I’ve been working as a scavenger here since 2007. How long has that been? I never counted it,” she told The Jakarta Post recently.

“I earn around Rp 60,000-Rp 70,000 [US$4-5]. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me to buy food or to cover my other needs, like arisan [social gathering] or paying my debts for my kid’s wedding party,” she added.

Despite the small earnings and smelly working environment, Atih said she was happy to be part of the Cipayung landfill scavengers family.

She said she never minds sharing with her fellow scavengers any valuable objects that she finds amongst the piles of trash. She recalled a moment when she found a gold earring weighing 0.5 grams. She sold the jewelry and used the money to treat her friends.

“I also once found a Rp 50,000 bill. I used it to buy cigarettes and ice cream. I shared them with my friends, too. We’ve never enjoyed such findings alone. We always enjoy it together,” she said.

Atih and scavenger friends never run out of trash. Every day, trucks line up at the Cipayung landfill to unload a total of between 1,100 and 1,300 tons of garbage – the number is usually higher during the month of Ramadan.

Excavator operators, meanwhile, are behind the wheels to pile the waste, creating mountains of trash that reach up to 20 meters tall. The operators have to strategically fit all waste in the 10.8-hectare landfill.

Operating since 1984, the Cipayung landfill has passed beyond its maximum capacity, but the Depok administration keeps on sending all of its waste here.

The Cipayung landfill recorded an uptick for a few weeks after the Greater Jakarta floodings in January, where it received 2,100 tons of waste per day.

For a few years now, the Depok administration has been hoping to ease the Cipayung landfill’s burden by sending 700 tons of the daily waste load to the Lulut-Nambo landfill in Bogor regency in West Java.

The Lulut-Nambo landfill has yet to open due to a protracted payment dispute between the contractor and the investor. Until the issue is settled, the excavator operators at the Cipayung landfill have no choice but to stack the waste higher and higher.

(Photo: JP/Seto Wardhana)

Komarudin - Burangkeng - The Jakarta Post

Burangkeng landfill, Bekasi

Total area: 11.6 Hectares Overloaded since 2014

Komarudin: Our water becomes smelly and oily

Burangkeng landfill in West Java has been operating for more than two decades and exceeded its capacity in 2014. Yet, Bekasi regency keeps dumping its waste there as it has no other choice.

The 11.6-hectare facility is situated within Burangkeng village, which existed long before the dumping site was opened. The villagers have to accept the bitter fact of having their houses surrounded by mountains of trash.

Komarudin, 50, was born and raised in Burangkeng village. He recalled that in the past, the villagers used to have limited job options but were blessed with beautiful greenery in their surroundings.

The situation turned upside down after the regency administration started using an empty plot of land in the village as a dumping ground in 1997. While the landfill enabled many of the villagers to earn money by scavenging, they had to sacrifice their green space and access to clean water, among other facilities.

More than two decades into its operation, Komarudin said the waste started polluting groundwater in the village. The water became “smelly and oily.”

“We can’t drink it at all. We must buy water in [19 liter] bottles,” he told The Jakarta Post.

“We may use it for bathing, but our body will feel oily – not fresh. I’m not sure about washing clothes. But it definitely can’t be used for washing dishes. Our water buckets have all turned nasty, they have become colored,” he added.

According to Komarudin, one family must buy up to two big bottles of water to meet their daily needs.

The cost varies. One 19-liter bottle only costs Rp 5,000 (35 US cents) at so-called refill centers – which are popular among residents in Greater Jakarta although their hygiene is often questionable.

If the villagers prefer branded spring water, they have to pay Rp 16,000 per bottle. This means that every family impacted by water pollution has to allocate at least Rp 10,000 to buy clean water every day.

“It’s necessary, it’s just as staple as rice,” according to Komarudin.

Many of Komarudin’s neighbors have become scavengers, from which they can earn between Rp 500,000 and Rp 800,000 per week. Komarudin, meanwhile, finds another way to profit from the landfill while keeping his hands clean.

He and his wife own a snack and beverage stall near the dumpsite, which opens from 7 a.m. until dusk.

“Some can earn money from the landfill if they want to be ‘smelly’ [become scavengers], but I don’t,” he said.

“Besides, I am in charge of arranging a funeral if someone in the village dies. I’d be ashamed if my hands were dirty,” the father-of-two added, laughing.

Last year, some scavengers were surprised to find trash bearing foreign languages. The waste varied from packaging from New Zealand chocolate chips to organic spaghetti from Canada and dog food from the United Kingdom, cat food from France and biscuits from Australia.

It is suspected that the waste was imported as none of the labels said the products were distributed in Indonesia nor had they certification stamps from the country’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM).

As the imported waste could not be sold for recycling, the scavengers and Burangkeng villagers had no choice but to leave it piled up on the dumpsite.

(Photo: JP/Seto Wardhana)


What can I do to help them?

Dedi and Atih deserve a safer working environment.

Komarudin needs to have clean water at his home.

Arip’s family should be able to live in their house without having to worry about their health.

Many things have gone wrong in waste management in Greater Jakarta, which has resulted in the sufferings of these four persons and many others who work and live within the landfills.

While it is the government’s authority to adopt better waste management policy, we, the citizens, can do much more to ease their burden.

Click the video below to discover easy ways to reduce and recycle your waste.

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