Arya Dipa and Ardila Syakriah, Jakarta and Bandung – Fifteen years have passed since an avalanche of waste at Leuwigajah landfill in Cimahi, West Java, killed at least 147 people – a tragedy that was not unheard of in Indonesia, a country that produces 64 million tons of waste annually.
The waste crisis has yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Garbage continues to pile up in landfills across the country, many of which will soon run out of capacity.
The Bantar Gebang dumpsite in Bekasi, West Java, which accommodates some 7,500 tons of waste per day from capital Jakarta, is not an exception. It is predicted to reach its maximum capacity of 49 million tons by 2021.
Rather than pushing people to reduce consumption and sort their own waste at home, the government is pinning its hopes on incinerators, also known as waste-to-energy power plants (PLTSa), to solve the problem.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo issued Presidential Regulation No. 35/2018 on the acceleration of waste-to-energy plant construction, which aims to speed up the development of PLTSa in 12 cities: Jakarta, Bandung and Bekasi in West Java, Tangerang and South Tangerang in Banten, Semarang and Surakarta in Central Java, Surabaya in East Java, Denpasar in Bali, Makassar in South Sulawesi and Manado in North Sulawesi and Palembang in South Sumatra.
The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry said the capacity of the plant in each city would vary, ranging from 10 mWh to 35 mWh, totaling 234 mWh. State-owned electricity firm PLN will purchase the electricity at 13.35 US cents per kWh, as regulated by the presidential regulation.
They would be able to process 16,000 tons of waste per day, a spokesperson with the ministry said, although the figure still pales in comparison to the 175,000 tons of waste the country produces each day.
The plants are expected to begin operations in 2019 but so far, none have started running.
The Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister, which helms the acceleration of the project, said many investors had shown interest in the plan. It reported that at least five cities had secured investors: Surakarta, Surabaya, Palembang, Bekasi and Jakarta – all of which had acquired funding except for Bekasi as of February.
Only Surabaya is ready to operate a plant but is behind its operational target of last year. Jakarta has yet to start construction despite a groundbreaking ceremony being held in December 2018.
The office's mining and energy infrastructure deputy assistant, Yohannes Yudi Prabangkara, told The Jakarta Post that the waste plant projects were part of integrated measures to tackle the waste crisis in cities, which no longer had spare land to dump waste.
The production of electricity was only a minor plus, as only 17 percent of waste in the process would be converted into electricity.
Bandung, Semarang, Makassar and South Tangerang have completed feasibility studies and are preparing to hold tenders.
'Unfair business model'
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) does not support the incinerator plan.
The agency concluded through a study on PLTSa in March that they would potentially put a strain on local administrations' budgets and PLN due to the "unfair business model" that it found in the government-to-business cooperation (KPBU) scheme implemented for the project.
The KPK estimated that local administrations would bear high annual tipping and processing fees that could reach up to Rp 2 trillion (US$134 million). PLN would have to spend Rp 1.6 trillion to purchase electricity sold from the power plants, as the regulated price was much higher than that commonly sold by coal-fired power plants at around 5 US cent per kWh.
"Local administrations will only be getting rid of their waste, while, in the middle, there are private companies as operators [...] which will have zero risk, because they would gain a certain income [from local administrations] and sales [from PLN]," said KPK prevention director Pahala Nainggolan.
He also pointed out the relatively small amount of waste that could be processed in a plant, citing Jakarta as an example, which will only have about 30 percent of its daily waste processed. "It doesn't fix the problem," he said.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment's (Walhi) head campaigner for energy and urban issues, Dwi Sawung, criticized the presidential regulation supporting the use of incinerators that emit toxins, such as dioxin and furan, into the air, and which could potentially cause cancer.
"Developed countries have shifted to biogas, which doesn't create emissions. The use of incinerators requires a large budget and when people begin to intensively sort their waste, the waste supply to the PLTSa will decline and it won't be effective," he said.
In the United States, community resistance has always erupted wherever municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators are located, a 2019 report by the New School's Tishman Environment and Design Center, said.
The report revealed that the current state of MSW incineration seemed to be in decline due to a volatile revenue model, aging and costly operation and maintenance costs, and increasing attention on issues related to zero waste, environmental justice and climate change. The country saw at least 31 MSW incinerators close since 2000 due to issues such as insufficient revenue or the inability to afford required upgrades.
Yohannes of the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investments Minister conceded that the incinerators were expensive but he believed they were worth the price.
"When we talk about the high price, it must be compared to the benefits that we gain. If it is expensive but we can fix a bigger problem; then can it be considered expensive? There are intangible benefits: improved health, declined use of national health insurance, increased productivity," he said.
Yohannes said the central government had prepared various schemes to help local administrations with their tipping fees, although he expressed hope that they would come up with their own solutions.
The high cost to install an incinerator has pushed several local administrations turn to the central government for assistance. West Java, for example, is proposing that the government cover 30 percent of the Rp 3.45 trillion it would need to construct the Legok Nangka disposal site.
The site will process between 1,853 and 2,131 tons of waste from Greater Bandung, which includes Bandung, Cimahi, West Bandung, Sumedang and Garut – producing 15 mWh of electricity at the minimum.
West Java integrated waste management unit head Edi Bachtiar said the administration would provide at least 2,000 tons of waste per day.
For every ton of waste brought into and processed at the site, the operator can charge Rp 386,000, with the West Java administration promising a 30 percent subsidy and the rest coming from each region's budget.
This means that Bandung, for example, will have to spend at least Rp 118 billion a year to process its waste, while West Java will have to spend Rp 50.7 billion on Bandung's waste processing.
The West Java administration said it had not heard back from the central government regarding the proposal and no companies have been appointed to run the dumpsite.
Bandung-based Biotechnology and Bioscience Development Foundation (YPBB) executive director David Sutasurya said the government's decision to develop PLTSa would drain local administrations' budget.
David suggested that the money be instead used to develop zero waste city management in the Bandung area, through which waste segregation would be encouraged.