The place where waste management is a form of worship

Project STOP is partnering with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and Indonesian communities to create sustainable waste systems and stem the tide of ocean plastic.

Photograph by Ulet Ifansasti
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Poor waste management systems have negatively impacted community health. Here, children play with trash at a local beach.
Photograph by Ulet Ifansasti

On any day in Muncar, a coastal community in East Java, Indonesia, fishermen are heading out to sea in traditional wooden boats. The harbor makes a picturesque scene with so many colorful hulls, but the beach and the surrounding waters tell another story. Muncar’s coastline has become overwhelmed by plastic waste from either local households and businesses, or waste carried downstream by nearby towns. The lack of a reliable waste management system has left the fishing industry, as well as public health and marine life, in jeopardy.

Asia is at the epicenter of the ocean pollution crisis. Half of all ocean plastic comes from five countries in the region, and Indonesia is the second-largest contributor, with an estimated one million tons of plastic each year entering the ocean. But the country is taking steps to remedy the situation. In 2017, the government of Indonesia adopted a National Marine Debris Action Plan to reduce its contribution to ocean plastic by 70 percent by the end of 2025.

To support this commitment, Borealis and SYSTEMIQ created Project STOP in 2017. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste joined the effort in 2019. Project STOP takes a holistic, collaborative approach, where teams of local and international experts work with cities to design and implement circular waste management systems to prevent plastic waste from leaking into the environment.

Project STOP chose Muncar as its first city partnership. When the effort began in 2018, households and businesses in Muncar generated about 50 tons of waste per day, while less than 10 percent of the community had access to waste services. That meant that residents lacked options aside from burning their waste or dumping it directly into the environment.

Muncar faced a serious challenge, but the city also had strong leadership and environmental commitment behind it. Working with the local government and community partners, Project STOP built two integrated material recovery facilities (MRFs), locally called TPS 3Rs, and a full waste collection system. This created jobs for local workers to collect and process waste. Project STOP also supported the local government by providing hundreds of hours of training sessions for those workers to operate the waste system. And door-to-door training sessions that teach residents how to separate their organic and non-organic waste are ongoing.

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Employees carry waste bins as they go door to door collecting trash and recyclables in Tembokrejo village in Muncar.

In a Project STOP video, Muncar locals spoke about the impact the project has had on their lives. “We think of our work as more than just about money,” said Nungki Rosalina, a TPST administrator. “We consider it an act of worship.”

After more than 18 months in Muncar, more than 47,500 people now benefit from waste collection, most for the first time. Project STOP has also collected more than 3,000 tons of waste (more than 300 tons of plastic) and created 80 full-time jobs.

“We are on track to collect 100 percent of the town’s waste by early 2021,” said Joi Danielson, a McKinsey-trained program manager from Portland, Oregon, working with Project STOP. “That should prevent more than 10,000 tons of plastic from leaking to the ocean over five years.”

The waste collection effort is also making a visible impact on the town. "There used to be a lot of waste in front of my house,” said Hamidah Hidayat, who runs a small convenience store next to her home. “Now my house is clean and so is my neighbor's.”

Hidayat remarked to a Project STOP team member that before becoming involved in the project, she used to throw waste through her kitchen window to a riverbed just beyond her house, but the family now has bins where they sort waste for collection.

Ultimately, Project STOP plans to scale up the development of more sustainable and circular waste management systems throughout Indonesia. This would involve the whole plastics chain, from the uses of plastic through to waste collection and recycling.

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A worker checks black soldier flies at a materials recovery factility in Muncar, Banyuwangi.

In September 2019, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste announced that it would fully fund and lead the next city partnership in Jembrana, a region on the north coast of Bali. Jembrana, a city of 300,000, is estimated to leak 13,200 tons of plastic into the environment each year, due to lack of waste and recycling infrastructure.

The Alliance is made up of over 40 companies that have committed more than $1 billion, with the goal of investing $1.5 billion over 5 years, to help end plastic waste in the environment. Through Project STOP, the Alliance aims to dramatically improve waste collection, bring collection services for the first time to households, create permanent local jobs in the waste management industry, and clean up areas littered with plastic pollution.

“The Alliance is focusing on areas where the need to improve the management of plastic waste is urgent and where our member companies across the plastic value chain can offer technical and business expertise,” said David Taylor, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble, and Chairman of the AEPW. “In Jembrana, we have an opportunity to work with the local community to build new waste and recycling infrastructure to prevent plastic from leaking into the environment.”

Ramat Hidayat, an official in Muncar, says neighboring village officials are eager to know when they’ll get a waste program in their town. “They keep asking when,” he says. “They are waiting. Because this Project STOP is not just good. It is fantastic.”

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