THE ALCHEMY OF TURNING GARBAGE INTO COMPOST


Garbage, garbage everywhere – Bali’s most pressing problem is highly visible. But one long-term project has been focusing on this issue since 2004, one truckload of garbage at a time.

Bali’s waste is pretty predictable. About 85% is organic (garden clippings, old offerings, kitchen waste), 7% is recyclable and 8% is unusable and can only be disposed of in landfills. There is a sustainable, correctly designed and managed landfill at Temesi in Gianyar. But organics going to landfill take up most of the space and generate methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

The Temesi pilot facility started operating in mid 2004 to research and develop an environmentally friendly, safe and economical waste recovery solution. By composting and recycling, over 90% of collected garbage could be diverted from the landfill.

The project was initiated by the now defunct Rotary Club of Bali Ubud, with implementing partners Yayasan Bali Fokus and Yayasan Gelombang Udara Segar (GUS). The land was provided by the government of Gianyar and project funding came from Rotary clubs, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA, the Canadian International Development Research Centre IDRC, OCPR of USAID and some private donors.

It was anticipated that the project would generate two income streams which would make it sustainable: selling compost and sorting and selling recyclables like glass, tin,paper and plastic. Selling the recyclables, especially from large hotels, was expected to create most of the income. But over time it became clear that the recyclables were not in fact reaching the project; they were being harvested by scavengers before the trucks reached the recycling centre. Lucrative hotel waste was usually sorted and sold near the property. So the recycling concept was restructured to give the revenue to outsourced waste separators, and making and selling compost became the focus of the project.

At Temesi, the 42 tons of organic waste collected daily which would otherwise decompose in the landfill and generate methane gas becomes 15 tons of compost instead. This represents the equivalent of 154,000 tons of CO2 emissions which will be avoided under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. Sales of carbon credits at the Temesi project will generate a total of about US$1.4 million over ten years. Who buys carbon credits? In this case a Swiss tour operator called Kuoni, which offers them to travellers when they buy their air tickets to help neutralise their carbon footprint. This money, which was meant to replicate the Temesi site in other areas of Bali, is now being used to subsidise the compost project.

Swiss Rotarian and retired chemical engineer David Küper, who has directed the project from the beginning, spent years researching systems to create large scale compost in tropical conditions.“Because the income from recycling didn’t work out as planned, the project has morphed into a huge compost making centre,” he explained. “There is now a 4800 square metre separation and composting facility under cover. We can only process about 10 truck loads of garbage a day – about 50 tons – so the majority still goes into the landfill.”

Large blowers force air into the piles of organic waste, which are watered, mixed and loosened up to maintain optimal conditions. Aerobic composting is an oxidation process creating mostly CO2 from decomposing organics (instead of methane in an anaerobic process) and is 25 times less harmful than methane as a greenhouse gas. It’s because of this aerobic decomposition preventing the production of methane that the Temesi facility receives carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanisms of the United Nation Framework Convention for Climate Change.

The oxygen content of the compost is maintained at about 12% and the moisture content is kept at 40- 60%. Active aerobic microorganisms produce heat during the decomposition process. The temperature reaches over 70°C, which sanitizes the compost and ensures that it is free of weed seeds, insect eggs and larvae or pathogens like E. Coli. The project has all the necessary instruments to measure temperature, water and oxygen content electronically.

“We learned a lot of lessons over the past decade,” said David. “In retrospect, the facility was too big. It was too far from the towns so there was a high incentive to dump the garbage illegally and save petrol costs. We didn’t anticipate that the recyclables would be diverted before we could collect and sell them. The concept of an integrated recycling and waste management centre was probably ahead of its time. But we have really figured out how to make compost. Now we need community support to buy it.”

One excellent waste management model that has emerged recently is the concept of Waste Banks, which originated in Yogyakarta in 2008. These are springing up all over Indonesia because they are so cheap to open and easy to manage. Each neighbourhood initiative engages up to 100-300 households but can manage up to 1,000. Every householder is issued with a bank book, and when recyclables are brought to the bank the items are recorded in the book. The credits can be cashed in quarterly. Profit is generated by selling the recyclables to mobile agents and the bank manager keeps 15% for operating costs and salary.

The concept of Waste Banks is supported by the government and several corporations are helping to start them as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Bank customers are encouraged to compost at home, and some Banks incorporate a composting area. Waste Banks are proving hugely popular and are springing up all over Indonesia. By the end of this year about 5% of the population will have access to one of about 15,000 Waste Banks around the country. Temesi opened its own Waste Bank a year ago and now has 87 customers including a hotel. The Bank’s turnover is about Rp 17,000,000 per month, which works out to about RP. 2 million a year credit per customer. There are several such Banks in Badung and Denpasar.

“It was also a lesson learned from the Temesi waste recovery project that decentralized, small-scale bottom-up projects like the Waste Banks have a much larger potential than top-down centralized approaches, which meet many obstacles,” David observed. “There is a huge market for organic compost in the agricultural sector. The Ministry of Industry (Kementerian Perindustrian) estimates that a nationwide shortfall of 8.7 million tons this year. All fertilisers sold to rice farmers are subsidized to keep the staple food of Indonesians affordable. So far, only producers affiliated with state-owned companies receive subsidies.

“Temesi generates 15 of organic compost tons a day and is sitting on an inventory of 1,000 tons. Our compost meets government standards and is in the process of becoming certified by the government as organic. Once this is achieved, we become also eligible for subsidies.”

Temesi’s organic compost sells for Rp 22,000/20 kg bag and Rp 700,000/ton plus transport when purchased in bulk. It’s available from Kopernik in Pengosekan, Ubud and Little Tree on Jalan Sunset. Temesi can also issue certificates to hotels and villas seeking environmental accreditation stating that their waste has been correctly disposed of.

Visit their website at www.temesirecycling.com for the full story on this heroic endeavour to help Bali manage its waste and educate the public. The project may have been ahead of its time, but our gardens don’t care. Order some compost today.

Ibu Kat’s book of stories Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail is available from :
– Ganesha Books in Ubud, Sanur and Seminyak
– Amazon downloadable for Kindle

E-mail: ibukatbali@gmail.com
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