Feature: Story of trash heroes in Indonesian landfill-Xinhua

Feature: Story of trash heroes in Indonesian landfill

Source: Xinhua| 2022-06-22 14:29:15|Editor: huaxia

by Nurul Fitri Ramadhan

JAKARTA, June 22 (Xinhua) -- It was a dirty, broken doll holding a drum, however, "It is not a waste, it's a new toy," said 9-year-old Nina. She took the toy from a trash mound in Bantar Gebang landfill in Bekasi city, West Java province, around 30 km east of Indonesia's capital Jakarta.

Nina also showed the other findings she collected from the trash, including toy cars and musical instruments.

All the toys she found, of course, were never in perfect condition. "I just need to wash them a bit," Nina told Xinhua.

Nina is just one of dozens of kids living around the Bantar Gebang landfill, the final disposal site which many people call a "mountain of trash" with an estimated height of 50 meters.

Reports from the Bekasi authorities and international news agencies say that it is one of the world's largest landfills.

According to the data from the Jakarta Environment Agency, the 117.5-hectare, foul-smelling landfill accommodates 7,500 to 8,000 tons of daily trash from Jakarta, home to more than 10 million people. The area itself also belongs to the Jakarta administration.

Near the corner where Nina took her "new" toy, there were dozens of barefoot scavengers with large rattan baskets on their backs.

Based on data from the Indonesia Scavengers Association (APPI), as of 2021, there were no less than 6,000 scavengers in Bantar Gebang who relied on collecting waste for their daily incomes.

Among them was Sukamta, a 45-year-old who has been hiking the trash mountain and digging for plastic waste almost every day for more than 20 years.

When Xinhua met him at the site recently, he was opening his lunch box prepared by his wife.

He then just sat in the middle of a pile of garbage, cross-legged, while enjoying his lunch. "Many outsiders who came here and asked us how we could eat in a place like this. But all we can say is that we are used to it," Sukamta said, "The food tastes delicious. We are grateful that we still have food to eat."

Sukamta earns around 3,000 to 3,500 rupiahs (0.20 to 0.24 U.S. dollars) for each kg of plastic waste he sells to garbage collectors. He said the income is enough to support the daily needs of his wife and two teenage kids, both of whom also scavenge there.

"I want my kids to go to college. They should reach higher education, not like me," he said.

Sukamta said he always told his sons that they did not need to be ashamed to be scavengers, because scavengers were trash heroes.

"Scavengers help pick trash that can be recycled. We help the government to reduce the waste here. They should be thankful to us. Imagine if this landfill, or all landfills anywhere, does not have any scavengers," he said.

Head of the Jakarta Environment Agency Asep Kuswanto said that every three months, the regional government distributes a compensation called "stinky fund" to the people living near the landfill area. Each family could get 300,000 to 400,000 rupiahs (20.2 to 27 dollars).

"To date, there are around 24,000 families who live near the area and are impacted by the landfill," Kuswanto said.

Sukamta, whose house is located inside the dump site, said that all the people living there suffered the same risk: skin infections and bronchial problems.

Every year there were charity and volunteer groups coming to the landfill to offer projects aimed to improve the living conditions of the residents, Sukamta said.

One of the organizations is the Seeds of Bantar Gebang (BGBJ). Its co-founder, Resa Boenard, spent her childhood in the landfill before she got a scholarship to study abroad.

Many people call her "Garbage Princess" as she is one of the very few people in the area who could successfully reach higher education.

The organization she established in 2014 now routinely holds a number of activities and projects in the landfill, including classes on a variety of topics, such as English, IT, health and nutrition, sports, music and art.

"Some children here want to go to school but their parents say no because they think that is a waste of money. So, these children need the people who can motivate them," Resa said.

However, it is not easy for her to find volunteers who would like to get there simply because the place stinks.

Nina is one of the children who sometimes join class activities. She said she wanted to be a doctor to cure the people there who suffer skin infections.

"I want to be a beauty doctor so that I can make the skins of people here become smooth without any scars," Nina said.