YSEALI U.S. Fellow Summer 2017 Cohort:
Week 2 Blog Post:
My second week went by so quickly. It seemed like with every day that passed there wasn’t quite enough time to do everything because I was scrambling to fit it all in before the fellowship ended. Such an amazing experience, jam packed into two weeks! After the trip to Surabaya, Ratna, Lengga, and I went to a smaller town called Banyuwangi to look into their trash collection systems and also learn more about coastal waste management. We spoke with shop owners and people living on the eastern part of Java island about what their experience has been like in that area over time. Plastic waste started becoming a big problem in the 1980s and 1990s, when products started to be packaged in plastic for consumption. The trouble with this type of packaging, while people were once able to throw it on the ground and have it degrade, is that now people throw their waste on the ground only to have it collect and pile up for eventual (if any) removal. Dr. Jenna Jambeck, a well-known researcher from University of Georgia, calls Indonesia the 2nd largest generator of plastic ocean debris in the world. This recognition is the reason that many are calling for a state of emergency around waste management in the future. It is estimated that 80% of Indonesia’s marine debris comes from lack of management in land-based waste systems.
Many of my meetings this week had to do with solid waste management and green building regulation at the city level. After getting a decent idea of the country-wide regulations that local governments are supposed to deliver, I learned a lot about the successes and barriers that are working (or not) at the city-level. We met with environmental management staff from the cities of Jakarta, Depok, and Bogor this week, as well as a few non-governmental organizations. One of the more frustrating parts of these meetings that started last week but became more of a trend this week was the inevitable point during a meeting at which someone would ask me, ‘What is the population in Eugene?’ When I replied with the number 167,000, people would just laugh, because the population size of Eugene is less than one small village inside of Jakarta. With cities as big as 10 million people (Jakarta), 2 million (Depok), and 950,000 (Bogor), it is very difficult for anyone working at the local government level to take my work seriously, and sometimes I am afraid even might write this work off as impossible since our populations are so different. Because of this, I would couch my answer to this question by saying that while Eugene has a smaller population, our policies and programs are all modeled off of larger US cities like Portland and Seattle. But then upon further research I looked up the populations of what I assume to be our “large” cities in the US for the sake of comparison:
- Minneapolis, MN: 413,000
- Portland, OR: 640,000
- Seattle, WA: 704,000
- San Francisco, CA: 864,000
- Philadelphia, PA: 1.5 million
- Chicago, IL: 2.7 million
- Los Angeles, CA: Almost 4 million
- New York, NY: 8.5 million
Now, I’m starting to wonder, is it possible to scale a US waste collection and green building regulation system for one of the biggest cities in the world when they are already behind the times in progressing in most of these areas? My answer I think would be yes. But being able to go back and speak with these same people I met with last week to discuss what is and is not feasible for their system would be very difficult. What do I know? We are talking about population centers among the biggest in the world in Indonesia; to scale a system in Jakarta to be like any of the US cities above would be presumptuous. I had many thoughts floating through my head while in these meetings; the primary one was something like, ‘Who am I to tell these people what works in the US, when I really do not know the social, cultural, and political climate here to really give people a sense of if this is even feasible or not?’ Lots of heavy thoughts this week, to say the least. Where I landed by the end of the week is that while the goal of this fellowship is informational and technical exchange, at least it starts some discussions with getting people in the same room to talk about these issues on a larger scale. What ends up working in the long run for Jakarta, Depok, and Bogor may not end up being an exact replica of a US (or other similar western) system, but maybe having these conversations and hearing what works well in other places could potentially have an impact on what works here some day.
The largest take-aways for me related to my work are the following:
- Waste collection is generally managed by the local government. For examples, the cities of Jakarta, Bogor, and Depok own a fleet of trucks and have workers that operate collection. Waste disposal sites like the landfill are (I think) also run publicly. City of Bogor told me that they used to have private collection companies running the solid waste system, but the companies went bankrupt and so the government took over years ago. The thought I had after hearing this was, maybe the private companies were not charging enough for collection – if people and businesses pay for the true cost of trash collection, the system should work and businesses should also be able to make money and pay their workers a living wage and keep equipment up to date. I shared with all of these cities the way City of Eugene calculates our rate structure and emphasized the importance and expectation that everyone pays into the system in order for it to be effective. Rather than calculating the percentage of how many tons of waste are disposed and processed (100%) our calculations is actually what percentage of waste we are able to keep out of the landfill and put toward some other higher level, better use.
- As for policy related to green building, it seems like cities in Indonesia have more control over building specifications than we do in Oregon if there is political will to do so. In Oregon, since our building codes are mandated at the state level, smaller local governments like cities and counties cannot make their own mandates and instead can only incentivize green building policy if they take that on as a core goal. Indonesia’s green building regulations are still very new (adopted as early as 2012), so there is a way to go in this area. With leadership coming from the Green Building Council of Indonesia (who models their policies and certifications after the World Green Building Council) and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, it seems like there is a lot of opportunity here to advance this work in the foreseeable future.
The other site visit this week that I haven’t mentioned yet included a visit to a public elementary school in Jakarta that has received numerous awards from the Governor for their sustainability achievements. I will include some photos of the site because it truly is immaculate and is run by a team of dedicated, passionate staff, community members, and teachers who all believe in the mission of the headmaster to create this type of environment for students. I was humbled to visit here and learn about their efforts; I was also a little sad to see that this system could theoretically be easily replicated in other schools, but currently it is not for a variety of reasons. What this school has that others lack is a strong leader (the headmaster) who is dedicated to providing the best possible public education to her students. When I asked if (hypothetically) she would take any of the best practices and lessons learned from this school with her if she were to ever move schools she said simply, “Yes.” It feels to me that this is a microcosm of the larger systems I witnessed–similarly to last week when I wrote about Surabaya’s mayoral leadership and the advancements their community is achieving because of her on-the-ground approach to getting things done and make the community better, this headmaster is applying those same exact principles and expectations to her work at this public school. I left here thinking, ‘We should all be more like them.” It was a happy/sad feeling 🙂
Stephanie Scafa, Waste Prevention and Green Building Program Manager
City of Eugene, OR