The Human Dimension

Section
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
Page
10.8

‘Waste’, ‘rubbish’, ‘trash’, are, sometimes literally, the ‘shitty’ side of the shiny consumption dream, the grubby end of the capitalist process that no one wants to recognise. Similarly, we don’t want to know the people who have to deal with our endless garbage, so often ignoring them, or worse, deriding them.

In one of the most powerful TV documentaries I have seen, this world was explored with grace and dignity in a sort of ‘life-swap’ program, ‘Toughest Place to be a…’, where a British garbage collector – Wilbur Ramirez – went to Jakarta, Indonesia, and worked for a time under the guidance of a garbage collector there. (Frustratingly, because of licensing issues between Australia and the BBC, I cannot view the episode. It was shown on BBC 2 in 2012, Series 2/episode 11, and I reproduce the promo here; I hope you have better luck watching it).

The British garbage collector is a strong, young, fit man, but finds keeping up with his host in the heat and pulling his impossibly heavy cart truly taxing. While resting in the host’s home in the semi-dark, inside an almost ‘cave’ within the garbage dump itself, he breaks down and weeps at his host’s courage and dignity, and the injustice of his life. The British man is kind and compassionate and cannot see how his friend has kept going like this, seven days a week, year after year, for just a dollar a day. It is as inspiring as it is moving.

While unable to view the BBC show again, I did find an article of a very similar situation, also in Jakarta, on Eman Sulaiman, who has been doing this job for 36 years. Here is an image of Eman; he is not a young man. The short Youtube clip is worth watching and is contained within an article by Pichayada Promchertchoo for CAN, reproduced below2.

 

Asia’s Toughest Jobs: The garbage collector who keeps Indonesia clean

P Promchertchoo, Aug. 12th, 2017.

Asia’s Toughest Jobs: The garbage collector who keeps Indonesia clean (channelnewsasia.com)

“Indonesia is one of the top waste producers in the world, generating 64 million tonnes of waste annually. Channel NewsAsia’s Pichayada Promchertchoo travels to its capital Jakarta to find out what it takes to keep the city clean.

Eman Sulaiman has been collecting garbage in Jakarta for nearly four decades, a job that earns him just above US$50 a month.

JAKARTA: The dumpsite reeks of rotten garbage but Eman Sulaiman is oblivious to the stench. This is what most of his life has smelled like. The elderly garbage collector has become used to it.

In the shade, he is catching his breath after a long walk. Mountains of waste tower above his frail, withered body. Both knees are stiff and his feet, clad in rubber boots, are sore. Yet, he cannot rest. There are still hours to go and many bins to empty before the day is over.

“I’m so tired. But it’s better than having no job,” Sulaiman says. He does not know when he was born but appears to be in his late sixties. His face is wrinkled and tired, his hair thin and grey.

Nearby, a brown tabby cat tucks into a rotting fish head, unconcerned by the crawling worms in nearby murky puddles.

This has been Sulaiman’s workplace for the past 36 years. It is the only job he could find after his small business was forced to close.

“When I first started this job, I found it very disgusting. People throw away all sorts of things, even dead animals. The sight and smell made me want to vomit. I couldn’t eat for weeks.”

“But thank God, I’m used to it now.”

 The sun is burning and Sulaiman is sticky with sweat. For hours, he has been pulling his garbage cart through crowded neighbourhoods in North Jakarta, emptying hundreds of bins with his bare hands.

The two-wheeled vehicle can weigh more than 90 kilogrammes when it is full of rubbish. To stop it from weighing him down, Sulaiman has to tie its front part to his chest with a nylon rope, which leaves a mark on his skin.

Work is difficult with his old age and feeble limbs. But the need for money keeps him going – US$53 a month for working seven days a week. Most of the income goes on cheap food – rice, eggs and instant noodles – and a rent of US$15 a month for a 3×2 square metre shack in a slum.

“I’m so tired. But it’s better than having no job.”

Every dollar he earns comes with sweat and exhaustion. But besides the physical strain, Sulaiman also has to contend with the rubbish he collects, anything from rotten food crawling with maggots to soiled tissue paper and plastic bottles filled with urine.

“They’re disgusting even to look at. But I have to pick them up with my hands. What can I do? It’s my job.”

INDONESIA’S WASTE CRISIS

As Indonesia grows more urbanised, its waste piles up. Annually, the Southeast Asian nation produces 64 million tonnes of waste, according to its Environment and Forestry Ministry. Fourteen per cent of the total amount is plastic, making it the world’s second biggest contributor of plastic waste in the oceans, after China.

“Globally, waste volumes are increasing quickly – even faster than the rate of urbanisation,” the World Bank reported in its global review of solid waste management.

On average, cities around the world collectively produce 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste every year. By 2025, the World Bank estimates that volume will hit 2.2 billion tonnes and increase waste management costs by more than four times for lower-middle income countries such as Indonesia.

When it comes to waste disposal, the country mostly relies on landfill; 69 per cent of its waste ends up being buried. According to the Environment and Forestry Ministry, only 10 per cent of its disposal sites are equipped with sanitary landfill technologies.

WASTE BANKS

To cope with the growing amount of trash, the Indonesian government has urged local communities to set up Bank Sampah or Waste Banks to help improve waste management nationwide.

The programme decentralises the current process by allowing residents to turn pre-sorted household waste into cash at collection points in their neighbourhoods. Deposited organic waste is then turned into compost while non-organic items are reused or recycled.

In March, Central Jakarta reported a 35 per cent drop in garbage volume, thanks to almost 400 waste banks in the area.

However, the capital’s population of more than 10 million people continues to produce waste, which is estimated at 7,000 tonnes per day. A lack of garbage trucks and quality trash disposal sites has also contributed to the city’s limited capability to manage its waste.

‘I WISH I COULD REST’

Back in North Jakarta, Sulaiman is hard at work. His back bends and his arms tense up as he pulls the heavy handcart through the alleyways in RW13 – a densely populated area near Angke Bawah River.

Every day, some 100 families rely on him to keep their neighbourhoods clean, as the streets are too small for garbage trucks.

“Sulaiman is hard-working, punctual and kind. He always shows up. Nobody can compare to him,” says a local resident, Ningrat.

From 7am to late afternoon, the garbage collector walks and pulls his cart and makes sure no rubbish bins are left unclean.

His work must be done fast to keep up with the mounting household waste. The only time he can rest is during his lunchbreak, which cannot be longer than 90 minutes.

“Otherwise, the garbage will be swarming with flies and people will start looking for me.”

Asked when he will stop working, Sulaiman says with a smile: “I have no plan to stop yet. But I’m old now. So I wish I could rest.”

 

1 BBC 2. 2012. ‘Toughest Place to be a …Binman’. Series 2, Episode 1. < https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bmtg7>

2 Promchertchoo, P. 2017. Asia’s Toughest Jobs: The garbage collector who keeps Indonesia clean. August 12th, Channel News Asia.

Explore Other Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10.1 Introduction

Elizabeth Kolbert’s absorbing ‘Under a White Sky’1 (see 10.9) begins with a boat trip down the much-abused Chicago River in the USA. ‘Down’ doesn’t have much meaning here; just what is ‘upstream’, or ‘downstream’ on this poor river is a...

10.2 Pollution: Status and Context

“Industrialization, use of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers, crop residues in agriculture, urbanization, forest fires, desert dust, and inadequate waste management have intensified environmental health risks and pollution, especially in l...

10.3 Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Climate Change

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is unequivocal in its identification of the tight and close relationship between anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and global warming; and from this spins forth a whole r...

10.4 Climate Change and Fire

In Section 7 and elsewhere in T10 I have talked about fire and its profound impact upon the natural world (e.g. see 7.6). The use of fire deliberately and directly to clear or alter habitat has been discussed, as well as its egregious use as a too...

10.5 Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Previously in T10 I have discussed solutions to the various problems thrown up in each section at the end of that section, but as climate change is being treated in Section 10 as a special case, with webpages 10.3 and 10.4 devoted to it, I thought...

10.6 Solid Waste: domestic

Moving from gaseous wastes/pollution, to solid wastes, I covered in webpage 6.7 the television program ‘War on Waste’ and commended it for covering this important, but ‘unsexy’, topic in an interesting and engaging way for the general public; it w...

10.7 Solid Waste: oceanic

This strange odyssey certainly has some of the rambling eccentricities of the more famous ‘Moby Dick’, but the similarities end there as this is a modern tale of plastics pollution in the ocean and one man’s quest to find the story behind thousand...

10.8 The Human Dimension

‘Waste’, ‘rubbish’, ‘trash’, are, sometimes literally, the ‘shitty’ side of the shiny consumption dream, the grubby end of the capitalist process that no one wants to recognise. Similarly, we don’t want to know the people who have to deal with our...

10.9 Waste Solutions: technological

In some ways technology is its own greatest enemy. Its very quickness, its shiny cleverness, its neat problem-solution dynamic is irresistible. It has solved, and at least can, ‘solve’, or contribute to, solutions to a whole range of world environ...

10.10 Solutions: other

Feeling a little flat about all things environment, the other week I was lucky enough to visit a nearby seaside town, Robe, and call in on Brad and Narelle at their little ‘factory’ out the back of town, called Transmutation. It has to be said tha...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...