A Solution to Stop Garbage Destroying Tourism

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Tourism is an essential source of income for countries across the South. But many put that livelihood in jeopardy when they lose control of garbage collection. A popular tourist spot can represent a ‘paradise’ to visitors, but when it becomes too popular and local garbage collection systems collapse under the burden, ‘paradise’ can soon turn to an environmental hell.

The small, tourist-friendly Indonesian island of Bali (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bali) – known for its idyllic pleasures of spas, surf and serenity – is being overwhelmed by garbage. A survey of tourists found two-thirds would not return to the island because of the problem.

Tourism took off on the island in the 1970s. The economic benefits are clear: the island went from being economically marginal to ranking second only to the country’s capital, Jakarta, in wealth creation. The island received more than 2.38 million tourists in 2009, up 14.5 percent compared with 2008, according to Ida Komang Wisnu, head of the provincial statistics office. But tourism produces on average five kilograms of waste a day per tourist – 10 times what the average Indonesian produces (Bali Fokus).

In the past, the traditional way of serving food in Indonesia was to wrap it in, or serve it on, a palm leaf: a biodegradable approach. But with the huge expansion in use of plastics and non-biodegradable packaging, the waste disposal problem is out of control.

In Indonesia, government garbage disposal services tend to collect between 30 and 40 percent of solid waste, most of this from high income communities. The majority poor population are left to fend for themselves when it comes to waste disposal.

A solution by Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental engineer and consultant, has since 1996 focused on helping poor communities find ways to safely dispose of waste. In 2000, she started her own NGO – Bali Fokus (http://balifokus.asia/balifokus/) – and opened a waste management facility in the Bali village of Temesi. The recycling plant employs 40 people from the village, who sort garbage into recyclables, compost and residual waste. Income from the recycled waste and compost goes to helping local farmers.

She then expanded her concept to include households around Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia. She concentrated on housewives and targeted reducing the amount of household waste going to dump sites. A core team trains housewives in daily habits that separate waste and compost organic matter like vegetable and fruit scraps. Bali Fokus claims it has been able to reduce waste created by 50 percent in 500 homes. Some of the women sell their compost in local markets; recyclables are turned into sellable items.

From 2001 to 2003, Ismawati turned this approach into a replicable template called SANIMAS. By 2008, the SANIMAS template was being used in hundreds of communities across Indonesia.

Her solution to the deluge of tourist waste can be seen in the luxury Jimbaran Bay area of Bali. Traditionally, the area’s hotels would sell their waste to pig farmers. While the pigs feasted on the fancy scraps, the rest of the waste was put in plastic bags and thrown away in mangrove forests.

“I told hotels: Your job is to sell rooms, not to sell garbage,” Ismawati recalls. “We have to protect Bali or else tourists won’t want to come here anymore.”

Ismawati cleverly turned the relationship around: rather than a pig farmer paying for scraps, she convinced one of them there was money to be made recycling and sorting garbage. For this, the hotels would pay the farmer.

A network of 25 hotels now pays to have their garbage taken away and sorted by hand: an important source of full-time jobs.

The workers sort through paper, plastics, glass, aluminium, food scraps and vegetables. Each week, 140 trucks deliver waste to the facility. Only 10 leave with waste that has to go to a dump site.

Food leftovers are bought by local pig farmers and grass clippings and other organic matter is composted (http://www.recyclenow.com/home_composting/), and eventually makes its way back to the hotels and is distributed in the flower beds.

This system has created 400 jobs where the pig farmer once only employed 10 people.

“If you want a hi-tech solution in a developing country you will wait and wait and wait until you get the money, or big donors to fund it,” Ismawati told the Telegraph newspaper. “And even then it may not work.”

A graphic example of this is a donated waste recycling machine given by the local government. It can’t be used because the electricity to power it costs too much. Human labour is a cheaper option.

Bali Fokus’ successful approach has now been replicated in six other sites on the nearby island of Java. And the government of Indonesia has promised to help create 15 more each year.

In 2009 Ismawati won the Goldman Award (http://www.goldmanprize.org/), which honors grassroots environmental heroes from the six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.

She is also working on using decentralized grassroots approaches to bringing sewage disposal and clean water to communities.


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