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Jakarta's trash troubles: Plan for garbage island sparks heated debate

Benar News - May 29, 2024

Ami Afriatni and Arie Firdaus, Jakarta – A proposal by the governor of Jakarta to build an artificial island to help dispose of the city's 8,000 tons of daily trash is being criticized by environmentalists who say waste needs to be reduced, not hidden.

For years, the city of more than 10 million people has grappled with an ever-growing waste problem. Jakarta's main landfill, located in the neighboring district of Bantargebang, stands out as a towering testament to this crisis.

Its waste pile has soared to a staggering 40 meters – equivalent to a 16-story building – according to authorities.

"We've run out of space on land in Jakarta and the surrounding areas," said Heru Budi Hartono, the acting governor of Jakarta, earlier this month.

"This is for the sustainability of Jakarta for the next 50 to 100 years. My thinking is that it's not just for Jakarta, it can be for the surrounding coastal areas," he said, adding the island would be created with river sediment and trash.

Critics of the plan, however, say the government should prioritize reducing waste at the source, rather than creating a new dump site in Jakarta Bay. They have called for a comprehensive approach that tackles overconsumption, promotes recycling and encourages sustainable waste management practices.

"The garbage island will eventually reach capacity, just like Bantargebang," Mahawan Karuniasa, an environmental expert from the University of Indonesia, told BenarNews. "It merely relocates the problem, not solves it."

"To accommodate waste for 50 to 100 years, it needs to be much bigger than existing landfills," he said, citing Singapore's Semakau Island as a potential model.

Semakau, a 3.5-square-kilometer island (1.3 square miles) located 8 kilometers (5 miles) off Singapore's southern coast, plays a crucial role in managing the city-state's waste.

Despite holding all the trash generated by Singapore's 5.6 million residents, the island does not reek of garbage. Most waste is incinerated on the mainland before being transported to Semakau as ash. It is expected to reach full capacity by 2035.

Upstream solutions

The Bantargebang landfill, which spans 110 hectares (271,816 acres), has been operating since 1989 under an agreement between Jakarta and neighboring Bekasi city, with Jakarta providing financial compensation. However, the dump site has been at overcapacity for years.

Eko Prasodjo, a public policy analyst at the University of Indonesia, said the government needed to reduce waste before it reaches the landfill.

"The sheer volume of waste is unsustainable and far exceeds our current disposal capabilities," Eko told BenarNews. "We need to focus on upstream solutions like waste separation and reducing plastic bag use."

Agus Pambagio, a public policy observer and advisor to the environment minister, questioned the feasibility of the project, pointing to the lack of waste-to-energy technology.

"If the garbage is on an island, what happens during storms? It could end up in the sea," he told BenarNews.

"Besides, does Jakarta even have special ships to transport the waste? This could create a whole new set of problems," he said.

Muhammad Aminullah, a campaigner for the environmental group Walhi, called the plan a misguided attempt to sweep the waste problem under the rug.

"If we don't tackle the root of the problem, how many more islands or landfills will we need?" he said. "Instead of addressing the root cause of excessive waste, the government is merely trying to hide it from view."

Experts said the project would require careful planning and execution to mitigate potential environmental damage.

Toxic leachate could contaminate the surrounding waters, there was a risk of microplastics entering the marine food chain and local ecosystems could be harmed, they said.

"The biggest danger is to the surrounding water ecosystem," Mahawan said. "We need to be especially vigilant about microplastics, which can easily spread through littering and harm marine life."

Tourist destination?

The garbage island plan has its backers. Pantas Nainggolan, a member of Jakarta's legislature, said such a project must be linked with efforts to combat land subsidence in the city.

"It must be in sync with the giant sea wall plan," Pantas said, referring to the government's project to build a massive sea wall along the northern coast of Java to save the island from being submerged.

"It shouldn't be just about garbage, but also saving Jakarta's land."

Parts of Jakarta sink up to 25 cm annually because of excessive groundwater extraction and urban development, experts and officials have said.

If it comes to fruition, the giant sea wall project would include construction of a 120-km (74.5-mile) coastal and river dike by 2030 and an adaptive sea wall to the west and east of Jakarta by 2040 before closing the sea wall with a reservoir by 2050, officials said.

Critics have warned that the U.S. $60 billion project would only aggravate the ecological and social crisis facing the region and urged the government to adopt a more environmentally friendly and socially just approach to the water-related problems.

Pantas said the Jakarta administration could look to Singapore and Japan as potential models.

"We can learn and compare," Pantas said. "If you look around, waste management in several places has become a tourist attraction. It's not impossible that the garbage island could become a tourist destination in the future."

Source: http://www.benarnews.org/english/news/indonesian/jakarta-rubbish-island-plan-sparks-debate-05292024031440.htm