Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia – Five years ago, the beaches of Nusa Lembongan, a paradise island half an hour’s speedboat ride from Bali, were littered with the kind of rubbish that is devastating swathes of Indonesia’s most famous tourist destination.
Today Nusa Lembongan’s coastlines are squeaky clean and the once heavily polluted river, home to an extensive system of mangroves, is pristine.
The turnaround is largely due to the Lembongan Recycling Center (LRC), a community-run facility that collects waste twice a day from businesses, homes and waste collection points on the island, then sorts and compacts paper, plastic, metal and rubbish . glass for sale.
Not only has the initiative increased environmental awareness among islanders, but it has literally put value on waste, giving residents a financial incentive to clean up their homes.
“The mangroves were stripped of metal, including old boat engines and motorcycles, when locals discovered the metal had value,” Margaret Barry, the Australian founder of the Bali Children’s Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds the LRC, told Al Jazeera.
The 8,000 inhabitants of Nusa Lembongan traditionally lived from fishing and seaweed farming. That started to change about 20 years ago after the island was discovered by surfers and divers from Bali looking for calm waves and coral reefs.
While tourism provided Nusa Lembongan with economic opportunities, it also brought with it massive amounts of inorganic waste. Over time, plastic water bottles, straws and other rubbish were dumped in a supposedly temporary landfill on the island, out of sight and out of the heart of tourism, which centers on the coast.
Within a decade, the landfill turned into a small mountain belching noxious smoke from regular fires – the only way islanders knew how to get rid of the waste.
In 2016, Pilot, an island resident who, like many Indonesians, has only one name, set up a simple sorting station for plastic waste on a plot he owned in the middle of the island. But with limited finances, only a fraction of the waste produced on the island was recycled.
In 2017, Putu, an employee of the sorting station, took over the facility and erected a small building on the site.
The LRC was born the following year when an umbrella group including the Bali Hope social enterprise, the Friends of Lembongan community group and the Bali Children’s Foundation, as well as local hotels and restaurants, contributed funds for machinery and staff.
Suddenly, islanders had the option of sending tons of trash to be recycled, shipped off the island and sold, instead of being burned or sent to landfill.
“In my observation, when the LRC manages the island, it is very clean because they collect garbage twice a day,” Oktavianus Agustus Pa Njola, an English teacher on Nusa Lembongan who has brought his students to the factory to learn about recycling, to Al Jazeera. . “If they stop for just one day, the trash will start piling up again on the side of the road.”
Mitchell Ansiewicz, the owner of Ohana’s, a beach resort on Nusa Lembongan that pays the LRC $50 a month to clean up its garbage, said the success of the initiative can be attributed to the collaborative approach.
“Nusa Lembongan attracts many divers, surfers and yogis – people who tend to care about the environment, have recycling already ingrained in their vernacular and want to contribute. Many of them have started initiatives over the years, beach cleanups and so on,” Ansiewicz told Al Jazeera.
“For some reason—maybe the right hands weren’t greased or the locals felt like they were being told what to do—they didn’t last long or didn’t care much. But with the LRC there was good participation from the expat and the local community. When the forces came together, capital and labor, it made a huge difference to the cleanliness of the island.”
Progress came to a halt during the pandemic as tourism evaporated, fuel for vehicles involved in garbage collection became scarce and most of the island’s residents returned to seaweed farming.
“During the pandemic it was very slow and the center was not that effective,” LRC volunteer Kris, owner of Komodo Garden Guesthouse, told Al Jazeera. “But now we have good cooperation from the banjar (local government), who gave us three-wheeled vehicles to collect the garbage and the salary of 18 workers, and I collect money every month from hotels and restaurants. Now we are effective again.”
In November, LRC added a small community permaculture garden and an aerobic composting program that produces eggplant, onions, ginger, garlic and other vegetables for sale to restaurants and hotels.
According to head gardener Maharus, organic compost is more effective and safer to use than fertilizer. But not enough is being produced to expand the pilot-sized garden because most islanders don’t separate their waste at home, according to locals on Nusa Lembongan.
Mixing organic and inorganic waste at home remains a problem not only on Nusa Lembongan but throughout Indonesia. Data collected by the state-run National Solid Waste Management Information System shows that 42 percent of the waste generated in the country is organic, making Indonesia the second largest contributor to food waste in the world after Saudi Arabia. As a result of this cross-contamination in waste, recycling facilities in Indonesia capture less than 5 percent of waste produced, while the plastic recycling rate is only slightly higher than 7 percent, according to the World Bank.
LRC stakeholders say they are constantly looking for better ways to encourage islanders to separate their waste.
“We try to give direction and understanding to the community to segregate waste from their homes and even provide reciprocity in the form of economic value to incentivize the community to deal with waste,” said Putu, the LRC manager. “But on this island we have to be extra patient and approach the community more so that they understand the importance of sorting waste from the beginning.”
Bayu Indrawan, director of the Indonesia Waste Management Center in Jakarta, said LRC is a good example of a small community committed to solving its waste problem.
“There are many community projects like this in Indonesia because the central government, which already has a waste-to-energy technology plan to solve the problem, is not in a good position to implement it on a nationwide scale,” Indrawan told me. Al Jazeera.
“They focus on properly processing waste in cities like Jakarta and Surabaya, because they no longer have landfills. They are already gone in Jakarta.”
However, Indrawan is hopeful for a brighter future.
“The government is finally on the right track,” he said. “Waste management in Indonesia is better than ten years ago. I think we can do even better, but it depends on the mentality of the people.”
Meanwhile, on Nusa Lembongan, there are signs that the mindset of the younger generations is changing.
“We have to separate inorganic and organic, because we can only use organic to make compost. If they’re mixed, it becomes a problem,” Komang, a 12-year-old schoolgirl who uses green and red bins to separate waste at school, told Al Jazeera.
Komang admitted that her parents don’t recycle much at home, but said she is determined to do so when she grows up and has her own house.
Pa Njola, Komang’s teacher, said her students offer hope for the future.
“If we can educate the children and raise their awareness, the problem will be solved in the next generation,” Pa Njola told Al Jazeera.
This article is written under a nom de plume