Indonesia’s Rampant Rubbish

Author: Richaldo Hariandja, Aisyah Llewellyn

“This is stage four,” says Teguh Prayitno, describing the conditions at the Cipayung Final Processing Site (TPA)—an estuary of all the rubbish produced in Depok City, West Java. The landfill is a mix of organic and inorganic waste piled up over 10m high; you can smell it from 500m away. On the east side, some of the waste is encroaching on the river. The head of the subdivision of TPA Cipayung tells New Naratif that this area is increasingly problematic for Depok City and difficult to document.

This was experienced firsthand when New Naratif visited and asked for permission to take photographs—which wasn’t granted even though there is no specific regulation that says that it’s prohibited. “I’m also not allowed to take pictures of this landfill,” adds Teguh. He says the order came from the Depok environmental services agency that oversees the TPA.

Depok was awarded the Adipura Environmental Award, the most prestigious recognition for an Indonesian city’s achievement in environmental management, in 2017. But their landfill conditions don’t make it seem like the city is carrying out environmentally sound waste management. This satellite city of the Indonesian capital Jakarta produces 800 tons of waste a day that empties into the Cipayung landfill, and it’s only two-thirds of the total waste produced by the people of Depok. The rest is managed in smaller village and district waste management units.

Established in 1984, the landfill sprawls over 5.1ha of land used as a rubbish collection zone. There had originally been two separate collection points but, over time—and with the explosion of waste produced by the people of Depok—the garbage has now become one big pile encompassing a huge area and standing at a height of more than 20m.

Landfills that use Open Dumping Technology are actually considered old-fashioned and not environmentally sound

According to upcoming plans, TPA Cipayung—which is already at capacity—will be closed, and Depok City’s waste diverted to the Nambo landfill within the administrative area of ​​Bogor Regency. But these plans are already known to be inadequate. “The discussion is still at the leadership level, but the Nambo landfill itself will also not be enough to accommodate 800 tons [of waste] from us, so we are thinking about where to send the rest,” says Teguh.

Landfills that use Open Dumping Technology—where the rubbish is simply dumped in a hole without treatment—are actually considered old-fashioned and not environmentally sound. They’re a source of other issues troubling officials, such as health problems for local residents and endangering their way of life.

One of the worst fatal events to occur in Indonesia due to improper waste management was a landslide at the Leuwigajah landfill in Cimahi, West Java, on 21 February 2005. The tower of rubbish collapsed on dozens of houses in three scavenger villages that had been set up around the landfill. The tragedy became the catalyst for the birth of National Waste Care Day, commemorated on the same date each year.

A matter of political will

The problem with environmentally unsound landfills doesn’t just exist in Depok and Cimahi. According to the Director of Waste Management at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (LHK), about half of the landfills (47%) in Indonesia practice open dumping. This is in open contradiction with Indonesia’s waste management law, which states that all landfills ​​in Indonesia must be environmentally friendly and be either controlled or sanitary landfills.

The law also says that open dump landfills should be closed within five years from the time the law came into force. That was in 2008. But, 11 years later, open dumps are still in operation across the country. The environment and forestry ministry says that operational costs and a lack of commitment from local governments have made it difficult to shutter these problematic landfills. This can be observed in the way that some parts of the country are doing better with waste management than others.

“If we compare Jakarta and Surabaya, Surabaya actually doesn’t have the budget of Jakarta. But they have maximised [budget allocation in accordance] with their commitment so that the budget is enough,” says the director of Waste Management at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Novrizal Tahar, who met with New Naratif on several occasions.

Waste Management - New Naratif
Richaldo Hariandja

It usually costs Rp 120,000 (US$8.50) per ton of waste when running a controlled or sanitary landfill. But districts that, for a variety of reasons, fail to allocate this amount of money to waste management tend to fall back on open dumps, piling garbage up in ever-growing mountains.

“The Surabaya government pays up to Rp 386,000 (US$27.50) per ton for waste management. So, in my opinion, this is a matter of commitment. So far, there are many local governments that allocate less budget [to waste management] that wasn’t considered a priority, so ultimately waste management costs are below standard and they use open dumping,” adds Novrizal.

Another good example can be seen in Balikpapan in East Kalimantan. The city routinely wins the Adipura Award, and allocates a minimum of Rp 1 billion (US$70,957) per month to the operational costs of their landfill. They haven’t used the open dumping method since 1992. “It wasn’t cheap to build the landfill. Just one zone, one landfill site with an area of ​​10 to 12ha, required funding of around Rp 156 billion (over US$11 million) from Balikpapan just to prepare the area to put the garbage,” says Suryanto, Head of Environmental Services in Balikpapan.

But the responsibility can’t be laid solely at the doors of regional governments. Sri Bebassari, a member of the drafting team for Indonesia’s waste management law, says the negligence of regional governments cannot be separated from the lack of investigation and enforcement on the part of the central government. According to Sri, in several discussions conducted with multiple regional governments, some local officials were confused about the design and funding necessary for an environmentally sound landfill.

“Many local governments don’t understand what a sanitary landfill is, or how much it costs. I see that training is lacking, even though I’ve proposed several times [to the central government] that we need training for local governments within the framework of arranging waste management budgets,” Sri tells New Naratif.

As a result, complaints about the high costs incurred by regional governments often emerge in budget discussions. “Correctly run landfills have operational costs of at least US$10 per ton, but now many are still run on US$1 or even US$0.50,” explains Sri Bebassari, who serves as the General Chair of the Indonesia Solid Waste Association.

Meanwhile, the Director of the Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement, Tiza Mafira, says that she’s disappointed by the attitude of regional governments that still consider the cost of environmentally sound landfills as an obstacle to properly implementing the waste management law.

“It’s been 10 years, but there has been no saving, no preparing the budget so far. This should clearly still be a priority but the the local government doesn’t give it [much importance],” says Tiza, who is also an expert in environmental law.

Stalled law enforcement

Wahyu Adityo Projo, who lives in Depok, says he’s constantly irritated by the stench of the landfill. The dump reeks so much that he can smell it from his home 4.5km away.

“The scent is so disgusting. The rain makes it worse. So we are suffering during rainy season,” says Wahyu.

The Depok government doesn’t compensate people affected by the landfill in such a way. Wahyu himself isn’t sure if he’s entitled to any such compensation. “All I know is that there’s no official complaint from the people around me. But I wish the government would do something to let us live in a better environment.”

Each law in Indonesia comes with potential sanctions if the relevant parties breach or fail to implement its contents. The same is true of the Waste Management Act, but law enforcement has stalled in this area. “Law enforcement is very weak. The LHK Ministry can’t enforce it. Responsibility is given to the local government, but if the local government can’t implement it, what legal route can be taken? It’s difficult, because the line of responsibility from the LHK Ministry to the regional government is [unclear],” explains Tiza.

“The scent is so disgusting. The rain makes it worse”

Sanctions in the Waste Management Act, such as jail terms and fines, are directed at managers who don’t practice proper waste management in accordance with the provisions. But according to the Executive Director of the Indonesian Center of Environmental Law, Henri Subagiyo, the lack of clarity in law enforcement is primarily because there’s no rule detailing sanctions that can be taken against the regional government. For this reason, he says that a mechanism of incentives and disincentives is needed to nudge regional governments. “Then the public as service users can file a lawsuit, regardless of whether it is civil or criminal. The community can sue the regional government for not implementing a good waste management model. Society as a consumer has carried out their obligations [by disposing waste properly]… but if waste management services are ineffective, then the community can file a lawsuit,” Henri says.

There are some legal precedents for this. In Depok City, the regional government was sued by the local community due to poor waste management at the Cipayung landfill. The first trial was held on 27 August 2018, after residents claimed to have developed health problems such as skin diseases and acute respiratory tract infections. In the lawsuit, 1,500 residents demanded compensation of Rp 30 million (US$2,130) per family from the Depok City Government for material losses such as the destruction of property, and Rp 1 billion (US$70,957) per family for immaterial losses such as reduced quality of life.

Aside from Depok, another community lawsuit was filed against the local government in Banyumas Regency. The community considered the landfill in Tipar Kidul Village in Central Java to have polluted the agricultural land so much that it could no longer be used to plant crops. In the lawsuit, 20 farmers sued for different material losses ranging from Rp 31 million (US$2,200) to Rp 228 million (US$16,183), with a total claim of around Rp 1 billion (US$70,957). Each farmer also sued for Rp 50 million (US$3,550) for immaterial losses, totalling Rp 1 billion (US$70,957). Both cases in Depok and Banyumas Regency are still ongoing.

The Director General of Waste, Rubbish and Hazardous Toxins Management of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, admits that she hasn’t enforced the law. But she insists that this doesn’t mean that nothing has been done.

“Now what we are doing is a lot of coaching. So the point of the Waste Management Law has not been fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it can, but we want to prepare the existing facilities and infrastructure [by providing expertise and guidance],” Vivien says.

Changing views

Vivien says that efforts to control and force regional governments to curb their landfills aren’t currently part of the LHK Ministry’s agenda. Instead, the ministry is trying to bring about a change in perspective, including how to solve the waste management problem not only by using landfills, but by reducing waste generation. “When we talk about waste management, we already have a different perspective, not only about downstream, but we talk about upstream to downstream,” she says.

In according with directives within a presidential regulation concerning national policies and strategies for the management of household waste, city and regional governments are asked to make Regional Strategic Policies which are derivatives of the National Strategic Policies. Through Regional Strategic Policies, they asked the regional government to map the waste produced by their respective regions, so as to formulate the best handling method. Novrizal calls these regional policies a step forward in thinking about how to limit waste in the region.

“When we talk about waste management… we talk about upstream to downstream”

“What’s interesting is that there has been a 30% reduction [across Indonesia], this is a step forward because we provide targets on the upstream side, so with this in place the regions are also forced to start resolving the garbage problem upstream. Reduction also comes in the form of recycling and reuse,” he says.

Tiza concedes that the waste management law spins out into many derivative regulations and interventions, but says that shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to environmentally sound waste management systems. She cites an example of the confusion: in 2016, the government introduced a presidential regulation to reduce waste through the use of incinerators, only to see it struck out by the constitutional court in 2017. Such twists and turns end up confusing local governments, leaving them unsure of what steps to take.

“It’s a distraction, and the regional government will also be confused [about] whether they have to build a landfill or if they have to build an incinerator contrary to the Environmental Law. They are two different things, two different technologies and have two different environmental impacts. We shouldn’t continue to be trapped by things like this that are just not productive,” she says.


Richaldo Hariandja

Richaldo has been a journalist since 2013 and spent 4.5 years at the Media Indonesia Daily Newspaper, writing about politics, science, environmental issues, design and entertainment. He is greatly concerned about environmental issues in Indonesia and has been a member of the Society of Indonesia Environmental Journalists since 2016.

Aisyah Llewellyn

Aisyah Llewellyn is a British freelance writer based in Medan, Indonesia, and New Naratif's Editor in Chief. She is a former diplomat and writes primarily about Indonesian politics, culture, travel and food. Reach her at

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