Indonesia is becoming a nation with rapid economic and industrial growth and a growing middle class. Prosperity and a higher standard of life are being created, but this rapid development paired with continued population growth brings with it new problems; one being a huge amount of waste. An estimated volume of 130,000 tons of garbage, especially plastic and leftover food, reaches Indonesia’s landfills each day. To manage those amounts is a huge administrative and financial challenge for Indonesia’s municipalities; and many are not well equipped to undertake this challenge, resulting in many of Indonesia’s 438 landfills putting the environment and public health at risk.
However, waste is not only a burden: it can be an asset. It’s all about turning waste into energy, making it part of the solution to Indonesia’s energy shortage problem.
Today, Indonesia is heavily dependent on fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal account for 94% of the energy supply) and imports of those put a heavy burden on the state budget. The sustainability of Indonesia’s energy supply is therefore in the greatest interest of the Indonesian government and new renewable power sources, e.g. hydropower, are constantly being explored. The target set by the government is to raise the share of renewable energy from its current 5% to 17% before 2025.
Waste-to-Energy (WtE) has long been used in Europe and has been a central pillar of the EU’s “reduce, reuse and recycle” policy. Sweden for example has one of Europe’s most successful WtE programmes with only 4% of rubbish going into landfill and the rest into power plants where it is turned into heat and electricity. The success of the programme doesn’t stop there; neighbouring countries like Norway are actually paying Sweden to dispose of their waste – thus creating additional income for the state.
As a method long used and explored in Europe but rather new to Indonesia the EU supports Indonesia in its efforts to turn its waste problem into a solution. Through the Trade Cooperation Facility (TCF) the EU aids the Government and interested municipalities across Indonesia in the development of capabilities and a clear strategic path for their WtE programmes. Central in the EU’s efforts is the development of a Guidebook for WtE Projects that includes strategic, legislative and educational tips. In order to see how the method works in practice and strengthen the appetite to do something similar in Indonesia, the EU funded a study-trip to Europe for a group of key government and municipality actors to Sweden and the Netherlands.
It is important to realise that WtE is a highly technical and very complicated matter. There are several different approaches reaching from incineration and methane production to highly technical thermochemical production of biofuel, each having their pros and cons. The key is to find the right approach for the right region, which accounts for Indonesia’s special challenges as a nation spread over a vast number of islands. To ensure that the right direction and decisions are being made in any given district, the European Union is supporting a number of feasibility studies and pilot projects while at the same time aiming to ensure improved communication between the central government and the municipalities.
Although WtE projects are still in a pilot phase in Indonesia and only a handful commercial scale projects feed power into the national grid so far, the potential of Waste to Energy is high. Not only can waste be reduced and energy gained but an industry can form around WtE, providing jobs to Indonesians and helping the economy. Additionally, with the right approach, greenhouse gas emissions can be lowered, thus helping the environment in more than one way.
However, although the existing waste can be an asset in energy production, the creation of waste remains a problem which should be tackled as the first step. The EU therefore pairs its efforts with educational programmes to teach school children how to avoid the production of waste, how to recycle and, as such, save energy.