Zero Waste City Labuan Bajo – Building a comprehensive and effective waste management system in remote region in Indonesia (1)

Rural population (% of total population) in Indonesia was reported at 45.53 % in 2016, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognised sources. As part of Indonesian Waste Platform stakeholder capacity-building we focus on improving waste management in rural Indonesia.

In October 2019 we launched Green Indonesia program in Labuan Bajo is a coastal town located on the western tip of Flores island, one of Indonesia’s lesser developed regions. Green Indonesia includes raising public awareness and good waste management practices aligning with the 3 Rs (Reduce – Reuse – Recycle) in 15 high schools and all neighbourhoods in Labuan Bajo – reaching 35.000 community members. Our program is funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Through this program we support the Indonesian Governmental National Action Plan on reduction of Marine Debris.

Tourism and waste in a town in transition

Labuan Bajo is one of Indonesia’s new tourism hotspots, with the famous Komodo and magnificent reefs as it’s icons. Growing tourism leads to growing consumption and waste generation. The hotel, restaurant and dive sectors in Labuan Bajo are expanding fast and are integrated in our program. To add some perspective, in 2009 Labuan Bajo still was a sleepy fishing town with 15.000 visitors to the island. The target for Labuan Bajo is to attract 500.000 visitors per year, domestic and foreign. Establishing a solid waste management system in this area is one priority of the Indonesian government.

We build on what is

Labuan Bajo solid waste management system is in development. A waste road map was developed in 2009 – 2010 and is now partly implemented. There are several private plastic collection initiatives and since the end of 2018 the local government has a fully equipped collection centre. This building was facilitated by the Ministry of Environment & Forestry. The local government has 10 open trucks and a fleet of tiga-roda – small 3-wheel pick-up vehicles – to collect waste. There is no comprehensive collection schedule yet, which covers all areas in town. Waste collection is done manually in parts of town. Staff of the cleaning department empty bins into the open trucks.

The collected waste is then transported to the TPA – a non-sanitary landfill. The landfill near Labuan Bajo is now full and a new landfill site has been opened 17 km out of town, which means 34 km two-way travel. The urgency to reduce mixed waste transports to the new landfill location is clear. Waste is not yet separated at a household level. There is a need to bridge top-down and bottom-up approaches; to link the existing environmental legislation and waste roadmap to be implemented and supported by the community.

This is the focus of our program, in collaboration with the Environmental Department, Desa and RT. We support creating, building and expanding the system.

 Our approach

Since 2013 we have introduced Green Indonesia environmental education on Flores. In 2016 teachers from all primary schools in Labuan Bajo were invited to a two-day teacher training which included the establishment of school waste banks. At that time we faced the challenge of lack of a larger collection point for recyclables. Theory remained theory.

We are now reviving that school program and we are implementing the 2019 3-way household waste separation strategy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (#PilahSampahRumah). Organics, all non-organic recyclables and residue in all schools and the community are to be segregated and collected separately.

Plastic recyclables are to be intercepted at the household level and shipped out to Java, to recyclers in the Indonesian Plastic Recycling Association network (ADUPI). Bags for collection have been donated by an ADUPI member. Non-recyclable flexible packaging will also be collected, counted, stocked and offered to brand-owners for further processing. Glass packaging will be collected from members of the hotel & restaurant sector, to be converted to sand by means of glass crushing technology operated on solar panels. This contributes to reducing depletion of beach sand, used in construction works. The Flores population consists mainly of farming and fishing communities. Organic waste from households is used as food for livestock and organic waste from the fast growing hotel and restaurant sector is diverted to the local farming community.

Our bottom-up approach starts at the Desa (village) level. Labuan Bajo is divided in 4 Desa and each Desa consists of smaller neighborhoods (RT). We meet in each Desa for an initial socialisation and then follow-up with individual meetings in each RT. Each meeting is attended by staff of the local government Environmental Department, responsible for waste collection; the head of Desa, heads of RT and heads of ibu PKK, representatives of the women in each neighbourhood.

On 14 November we co-hosted our first Desa meeting. Today we met at the second Desa, which covers twenty RT. Our meetings follow a strict protocol. This includes official opening words by the head of the Desa and staff of the Environmental Department and ourselves – Marta Muslin and I. We share basic knowledge about the impact of waste on human health and climate change. More specifically the impact of plastic and the burning of plastic. We explain the reasons for need of waste separation at a household level, landfilling reduction, reduction of single-use items and we present alternative solutions, such as water filters, tumblers, reusable shopping bags. Furthermore, we discuss the impact and management of organic waste and explain the need of recycling and the development of a circular economy. Lastly we provide information regarding aspects of industrial and artisanal recycling. Lunch and Flores coffee is served at all meetings and we make a point of using non-single-use plates, cups and cutlery.

Challenges & opportunities

Challenges are multi-fold. Labuan Bajo is situated far away from the Indonesian mechanical recycling sector, which is mainly based on Java. Recyclables need to be transported by truck and ferry over long distances, adding to operational costs and carbon footprint. The growing tourism sector involves large scale construction works and subsequently construction waste, which ends up in landfill. We aim to better the working conditions of the cleaning force, since there is room for improvement.

On the other hand we have a quit close-knit society and a lot of goodwill from local stakeholders, willing to engage in solutions on the growing amounts of waste. Public awareness is improving, also thanks to efforts of various stakeholder groups, organising regular clean-ups in town, on beaches and in the Komodo National Park. We see opportunities to introduce alternative delivery models, such as water refilling stations and refilling systems in local super markets.

Progress step-by-step.