Indonesian cities are facing serious problems managing municipal solid waste (MSW). Like many cities in developing countries, the volume of MSW is rising significantly with the increasing population and economic development.

On site transaction between scavenger and waste collector

In 2008 a new law in Indonesia set out to close all non-compliant landfills within five years. As the clock ticks down, and with many landfills far from meeting the operation and management criteria, new observational research suggest revitalising existing sites to raise environmental standards and increase recycling could be the key.

By Edi Munawar & Johann Fellner

Indonesian cities are facing serious problems managing municipal solid waste (MSW). Like many cities in developing countries, the volume of MSW is rising significantly with the increasing population and economic development. Indonesia's population has grown at a rate of 1.5% per year from 205 million in 2000 to 237 million in 2010. As a consequence of a high urbanisation rate, over half of the population lives in urban areas.

According to the State Ministry of Environment (MoE), every Indonesian generates 0.76 kg/day of MSW. Thus, the total MSW produced in 2010 was approximately 65.9 million tonnes. That amount is almost double compared to 2006, with big cities such as Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan accounting for 36.6%. Therefore, the issue of waste management and disposal has become crucial, especially following the enactment of Act 18 in 2008 relating to the management of waste.

This act mandates the waste management authority to improve MSW management practices to be environmentally sound. The act also obligates landfill operators to close sites which operate as open dumps. There is no exact information on how many landfills are in operation. However, the MoE estimates that all districts and cities have at least one landfill.

The cities used for this research consist of Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan, Bandung, Semarang, and Surabaya to represent metropolitan cities, and Banda Aceh, Yogyakarta, Malang, and Denpasar to represent big cities. The service area of the observed landfills represented around 19.5% of the total population, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of about $5800 - higher than the national GDP per capita of around $3490.

Current Landfill Practice

Almost all of the landfills were originally designed as controlled landfills, some of them even as sanitary landfills. In fact, all of them were operated as 'controlled-dumps'. The Operation & Maintenance (O&M) practiced is neither controlled landfill nor sanitary landfill. This can be concluded as there is no treatment carried out on incoming waste, irregular soil cover applications, a lot waste pickers pick the waste on site, inadequate leachate treatment and landfill gas emissions released to the atmosphere without any treatment. Furthermore, the initial design of some landfills cannot meet the controlled landfill criteria. These landfills were located in coastal area and potentially pollute the water course.

In term of soil cover application, all landfills applied soil cover irregularly due to insufficient material. The procurement of soil cover material can take place a long time after the bidding process. The worst cases occurred at several landfills, where soil cover application was conducted after the landfill was completed.

Although waste picking is not officially allowed at landfills, all sites were occupied by waste pickers. The Ministry of Cooperative, Small and Medium Enterprises (MoCSM) estimates five to six thousand of these people are living and working on the site of Bantar Gebang landfill in Jakarta. In 2008 there was estimated to be around 1.2 million waste pickers nationally.

Waste pickers' homes on a landfill site

In total, waste picking activities are unmanaged and take place from early in the morning until late in the evening. The pickers who live on the landfill site usually pick waste for the whole day, while those not living on the site mostly pick waste as their secondary job. In the worst cases occurring at some landfills waste pickers must fight with grazing animals to pick the waste. Hundreds of cattle graze on landfill sites in search of food.

The Waste Act Requirement

Indonesia has ratified international frameworks on related wastes (i.e. Basel convention in 1993, Kyoto protocol in 2004). However, before May 2008 there was no regulation regarding waste management at the national level.

The management of MSW was carried out under local regulations which can be different between regions. The absence of regulation at national level might be the main factor leading to MSW management operating below optimum effectiveness. The development of waste management was slow due to the lack of a legal basis, which greatly effects budgeting.

Act No. 18 completely covers all issues related to waste management, including the principle of waste management and rights and the obligations of society related waste management. In addition, the act also clearly divided the responsibility between central and local governments, both in term of established policy and strategy, as well as the financial aspects.

The central government has responsibility to establish the waste policy and strategy at national level, and develop cooperation between local governments. The local government can determine the waste policies at the local level with consideration to national waste policy. They also have responsibility to run waste management, to foster and manage the waste management implementation, and to control and evaluate it.

Regarding landfill O&M, the act obligates local government plan for the closure of landfills which operate as open dumps immediately, and not later than five years after the Act was enacted. Local government is also required to monitor and evaluate closed open dumpsites every six months for 20 years closure.

New landfills must be equipped with integrated processing facilities, where sorting, recycling and final waste processing takes place. The final waste disposal site must operate as a sanitary landfill and avoid methane emissions.

Sporadic Construction

As mandated by the act, through the Ministry of Public Work (MoPW) the central government coordinated with local governments to identify the number of landfills in operation. The results found that the total number of landfills in operation across Indonesia was 378, with total area about 1900 ha. This number is fewer than the 524 districts and municipalities. Not all landfills had been the identified, since it can hardly be believed that the number of landfills is smaller than the number of districts and municipalities. This work also found 81% of landfills operated as open dump sites, 16% as controlled landfills, and the rest were operated as sanitary landfills. This finding indicated that 305 new landfill sites must be constructed to replace the open dumps within five years.

However, without sufficient funding and investment to implement this it seems impossible to accomplish the goals of the Act on time. By mid 2012, the MoPW reported the number of new landfills completed was 94, with 13 built by foreign governments under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) framework. With many open dumps still remaining and the transition period for the act soon to end, the question arises, should the central government consider injury time? and for how long?

Lessons learned

For landfill O&M to be classified either as controlled or sanitary it must meet some measurement criteria. These criteria include the compliance of site location, type of liner used in construction, daily O&M procedures, final cover application and postclosure maintenance.

Even when a landfill was initially designed as sanitary, it cannot continue to claim sanitary status if its operation does not meet the measurement criteria, as at some observed landfills such as Bantar Gebang landfill in Jakarta and Sumur Batu landfill in Bekasi. These landfills were built using composite baseliners, and equipped with adequate leachate collection and treatment facilities, and landfill gas management as well. However, in practice those landfills were operated as open dumps rather than controlled sanitary landfill sites.

In an interview with a landfill operator it transpired that the site was forced to operate as an open dump due to an insufficient O&M budget. It is important to note that the central government only covers capital investment, while all running costs are covered by local government.

The main source of funding for MSW management is local government budgets and a waste collection fee, but this is insufficient due to the limited budget available and low collection rates.

An average waste collection fee contributes only 28% of total waste management costs. Furthermore, the waste collection fee was standardised according to house type, water or electricity consumption and building location, without considering the quantity of waste production.

Barriers to Improvement

These facts show us that the main problem for landfill O&M is not the landfill technology in use, but insufficient finance leaving managers unable to operate as well as possible. Even newly built landfills do not guarantee that landfill O&M will not be a threat to the environment. Worse still, without sufficient finance for O&M soil cover application will be irregular. As a result any aerator for leachate treatment will be unable to operate and landfill gas will be released.

Waste pickers 'mining' a closed landfill site in Indonesia

Moreover, landfill operators are still facing a dilemma over how to manage people picking waste from sites in order to meet the requirements of the act. The problem will not be solved automatically with the construction of a site. It is likely that these people will surely move from the old landfill to new one, since it is their livelihood. Prohibiting them to pick waste will build resistance among thousands scavengers and their dependents. Managing them and making them follow rules for working on the site should probably be an option to meet the Act's requirements. However, this might further increase landfill O&M costs.

A Feasible approach

If we evaluate the current landfill O&M problems, insufficient funding and the presence of waste pickers seem to be the main factors preventing landfills from operating appropriately. However, these factors will occur even at newly constructed landfills. Therefore, the construction new landfill will be never reach the waste management goals without being followed with sufficient landfill O&M financing and managing the scavenging activity.

Revitalisation of landfill sites could be the best solution to both the financial and scavenging problems. Revitalisation means formalised recycling by involving the waste pickers in collection, sorting, and recycling processes. It is important to note that recycling in this context does not refer to processing MSW into new product, but to the activity of separating and selling the recyclable fractions.

The market potential for the recyclable fraction of MSW has risen significantly in the last decade. The Ministry of Cooperative, Small and Medium Enterprises (MoCSM) estimates the turnover of the recyclable MSW fraction carried out by waste pickers at $2.1 million per day. This amount is almost equal to Jakarta's annual local government budget. So far, the margin of this incredible transaction goes to the waste collector who buys and provides scavenging tools. In fact, the scavengers are working in poor conditions and without any health protection, while the price of the materials scavenged from the waste is unilaterally determined by the waste collector.

A formalisation of waste recycling has been started by the Gampong Jawa landfill operator in Banda Aceh through buying, simple processing, and reselling Polyethylene (PET) and Polypropylene (PP) bottles. The turnover of this activity has reached $200 per day. Although this revenue still very low compared to landfill O&M costs, the operator is very confident this effort will grow by increasing raw material demand.

In Jati Barang landfill, Semarang, the composting of the organic fraction of MSW is carried out on an industrial level. Hundreds of people were hired to help compost the organic fraction and separate non compostable materials. The additional revenue obtained by the waste management authority from this work reached $105,000 per year. Thus, revitalisation of landfill sites will increase revenue and hopefully will also provide a better, healthier working environment for scavengers.

Edi Munawar is a lecturer and researcher at the Chemical Engineering Department of Syiah Kuala University, Banda Aceh, Indonesia
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