Street Kids Recycling for a Green Jakarta

*this story went to air on weekly one hour radio feature show ‘Asia Calling’, which is broadcasted from Afghanistan all the way through the Asia region to Australia* 

Indonesia is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and lags far behind its Asian neighbours when it comes to garbage disposal and recycling.

The capital and bustling metropolis of Jakarta is home to some 10 million people that produce 6,000 tonnes of rubbish every day. 

The city relies heavily on trash pickers and scavengers – many of whom are street children –  to save the city from drowning in trash. 

But a group of street children from Jakarta’s outskirts is working hard to green the city.

Morgan Pettersson visits a school where 70 street children are being taught how recycling can make all the difference.

Entering the compound, I can see children sorting through mountains of plastic bottles and containers.

Some are busy creating objects from the recycled materials.

16-year-old Selamat grew up on Jakarta’s streets and joined this school four years ago.

He shows me key chains and hair clips he has created from recycled plastic.

“I am really proud. At first I was frustrated but then I tried really hard and didn’t give up and I made them. They’re eye catchy for people and also us.”

It’s a new skill that Selamat and 70 other children have learned at the Diakonia Modern Campus.

It’s a school for Jakarta’s street children, where they can also take classes in basic reading and writing, English, cooking and carpentry.

The school is free, and students can come and go as they please.

10 years ago the school established the Jakarta Green Project to help both the students and the environment.

Renie Elvina Tiurma is the project director.

“Actually our goals, the first one is really utopia, to reduce Jakarta garbage or waste problem, so help the street children education here. And also the other things that we have provided are opportunities for our graduate children who has no skills or something yeah. Some not all have good potential to go continue to school or have a certain skill but they can do something here because it’s easier just sorting and the collecting.”

The project started by collecting and sorting garbage from neighboring houses.

And after 10 years, 300 houses and businesses in Jakarta are now clients.

Everyday the students transform the collected mountains of rubbish into an income for the school.

Some of the rubbish can be reused and crafted into re-sellable objects.

While the rubbish that cannot be re used is sold to a recycling company.

With tons of rubbish produced in Jakarta each day, almost everything ends up in the city landfill.

The majority of Indonesian households don’t sort garbage – instead all rubbish is thrown into a single bin.

Many Jakartans still burn their rubbish on the roadside and the idea of recycling is in its infancy.

Renie believes that everyone should be responsible for their own garbage.

“People always say it must be government but I think everybody needs to realise how important to stop, how important to have responsible yeah that I produce waste, everybody produce waste but then it can manage in a proper way actually we will not make something not danger our life later if we have responsibility.”

Renie says that by teaching street children how to recycle and make things from rubbish, they will be able to spread the new skills outside the school.

“It is important because it is more sustainable for our city and our country because they are Indonesian, because if they are used to they do understand why we have to sort. Then they can be like an agent to give influence to their friends to their neighbours. So if you don’t have a good place to plan our food or something and we just put our garbage everywhere so it is really dangerous for their future here because they will stay here in Jakarta and in Indonesia. And if there is nobody aware about this, it is really not a good situation later it will be.”

It is hoped the initiative will see the rate of recycling continue to climb.

Even better, she says, would be a coordinated recycling service for the whole city.

“So I think it is still a dream but we try to start with something not wait or expecting others to start because we need to start from ourselves. This is a dream I think.”

19-year-old Sylvie is showing me a metal key chain made from recycled soft drink cans.

She then sells them in Bekasi for 60 US cents each for pocket money.

Now a recycling expert, she hopes to continue her green lifestyle and educate others when she leaves KDM.

“Yes, I would still recycle when I leave KDM. I even want to tell people who don’t know about how valuable garbage is, and that it can be recycled. What I learnt was, I realized I have to go green. So whenever I go out and I want to buy something I would say please don’t give me a plastic bag. So I would just carry it with me, or put it in my bag, because I don’t want to add more plastic bags.”

As they say, think global, act local.

For Asia Calling this is Morgan Pettersson in Jakarta.

*Audio can be heard here*


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