Jakarta scavengers moan loss of scrap trade

Indonesia is burdened, in more ways than one, by other nations treating it as a dumping ground for their wastes.

By Dewi Sartika
Published: Saturday 15 May 1993

IMPORT of waste scrap material -- some of which could be toxic -- for recycling, has created a controversy in Indonesia. Scavengers in Jakarta are complaining that the price of recycled items has fallen so low, their livelihood is threatened.

Their demand for an immediate ban is supported by the country's environment minister Emil Salim. Initiating a clean-up drive, Salim said, "We don't want Indonesia to be a dumping ground for industrialised countries' waste materials." The drive called Peduli Aqua, is sponsored by Aqua Golden Mississippi, a bottled drink company, and the Environment Partnership Fund, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Pointing out that they save the Indonesian government a lot of money by cleaning up and recycling trash and that the country's president had honoured them with the title of "independent troops", the scavengers said they are handicapped by the increased import of waste. Between January and November 1991, 14,512 tonnes of plastic waste reached Indonesia from USA. "We now have piles of plastic," one scavenger complained. "Nobody wants them."

The issue is causing growing concern among scavengers, environmentalists, legislators and the public because as much as 40 per cent of the waste could be toxic. At a recent seminar Salim pointed out there is no law in Indonesia banning import of wastes and no regulations governing the trade. There is much money to be made in waste imports, he added, because many countries are willing to pay to move their waste to other countries.

Skephi, an Indonesian NGO, maintains on the other hand that waste import is an environmental crime and those guilty of it should be punished. Skephi disclosed at least 150 containers, each holding about 50 tonnes of waste, are brought into the country each month now and is likely to increase to 995 containers in 1993.

An Indonesian official says a committee is to be set up shortly to review the import of scrap wastes and regulate the trade. Meanwhile, the government has cleared a plan to construct and operate a processing centre in west Java for toxic and hazardous wastes.

---Dewi Sartika is a freelance contributor to Panos Features, London.

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