Rise Together with Citarum Trash Cooperative
Cihampelas-Sitting in the middle of piles of used plastics in a rainy day at Babakan Cianjur hamlet, Cihampelas village, West Bandung Regency (27/02/14), Atikah, Ila and Imas were busy doing their work. Their hands and fingers moved playfully, removing plastic plasters attached to large plastic sheets, sorting them out into two groups; plaster-free plastics and plastic trash. A scent of vanilla coming from the plastic piles filled the air.
“This plastic might have been used in packaging cookies,” jokingly said Atikah, a Babakan Cianjur resident. Over the last three years, the three have worked in a trash collection and sorting site belonging to Bangkit Bersama Cooperative, as they are among the total eight female members of the cooperative. They usually work from 7 o’clock in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. Their work are frequently interrupted by some time they have to spend in doing their house chores such as cooking, washing and taking care of family affairs. They get paid 20,000 rupiah a day, and put 3,000 rupiah out of it into their saving account managed by the cooperative.
To Rise Higher Bit By Bit
Photo caption: A university graduate scavenger Indra Darmawan (left) is the initiator of Bangkit Bersama Cooperative. Dindin (right) is Indra’s working partner and a member of the cooperative.
Bangkit Bersama Cooperative was established by Indra Darmawan in 2009, or eleven years after Indra started his trash business in his village in 1998. (See article: Indra Darmawan: Lilin Kecil di Sisi Raksasa Saguling). At the beginning, it had only 20 members, now it expands with almost 100 memberships. Most of the cooperative members are Cihampelas villagers who are also either scavengers or small traders.
Indra Darmawan along with residents of Babakan Cianjur had passed a bumpy road in their initial journey to start up this trash business. Upon graduating from his study, majoring in mathematics in Bandung based Padjajaran University, in 1998, Indra decided to start a trash business. He made the decision in the midst of the then Indonesia’s economic crisis condition marked with a widespread job scarcity. In addition, Indra also witnessed a sea of rubbish clogging up Citarum River stream which passed his village and saw a business opportunity in it.
Being the one and only university graduate in his village did not make him arrogant. Instead, he followed his fellow villagers, who generally have only elementary school education, to do trash scavenging. This later inspired Indra to do something more for his own village in order to improve the village’s economic and education condition. The scavenging location was at the stream around Saguling Dam which passes through Batujajar and Cihampelas subdistricts.
His lack of knowledge in how to sort out trash led him to divide the trash based on their color. This led to a series of rejections whenever he delivered plastic trash to a collecting factory in Cigondewah. Later on, Indra learnt about various types of trash and how to sort them out as recommended by the factory owner.
“In general, there are various types of trash. A thin plastic bag trash is worth a low selling price, or about 500 rupiah per kilogram. The highest selling price goes to a certain type of plastics, which is thicker than others or what the scavengers call ‘emberan’. This type of plastic could be found in various used goods such as in drink bottles, water containers and buckets and toothbrush handles. The price could go as high as 7,000 rupiah a kilogram,” said Indra.
Most scavengers operating in Citarum River use wooden boats so that Indra bought one at the price of 600,000 rupiah in 2001. By 2005, Indra employed 5 workers to assist him in running the business and was brave enough to make a business expansion proposal. A help was extended by Badan Zakat Nasional (National Alms Agency) as it provided a fund amounted to 150 million rupiah to help Indra purchase a machine and construct a modest building as a place to sort out the trash. In 2008, Indra got another aid and technical assistance from the unit operator of Saguling. And finally in 2009, Indra determined to establish a cooperative named as Koperasi Bangkit Bersama or literally means Rising Together Cooperative.
It aimed at providing business opportunities out of the readily available raw materials to his fellow villagers. Indra’s other vision is to produce new entrepreneurs in a trash management business. By establishing a cooperative is also one of his visions to provide help to local people and get empowered together with them.
A cooperative member may borrow money and repay it in trash installments. The loan ranges between 500,000 and 1 million rupiah and it is repayable in interest-free installments and not limited by any lending period. Indra admitted that managing the cooperative faces a great deal of challenges including those issues related to capital and installment payments.
Photo caption: A cooperative member scales the trash collecting by scavengers.
Citarum Trash Sales
Indra was once overwhelmed by witnessing the poor condition of the Citarum stream, as the place where he used to swim in it during his childhood period had its surface covered by rubbish and water hyacinth plants or locally called ‘eceng gondok’. But now his optimism grows as the trash has turned to be a source of a livelihood for him and his fellow villagers. According to Indra, in the 1980s or a period prior to the start of the construction of Saguling Dam the quantity of trash was already large enough, but due to the absence of dam, nothing could prevent the trash from flowing down further the stream, making the total quantity seemed to be relatively smaller. The situation now changes. Trash is now blocked and filtered as the water flows into the Saguling Dam’s turbines to generate electricity, creating piles of trash that cover up the river surface. When seen through an environmental perspective, the trash is part of a chronic water pollution issue.
Indra said that scavengers operate both in land and water. There are 120 people who scavenge by using boats in Citarum River. They can make 100,000 rupiah a day. Indra and its cooperative divide the scavenging area into three locations, that is, Cipatik, Citapen and Cihampelas villages. In a period of one month, the total quantity of trash collected by the scavengers can reach up to 80 tons! Or at the average of 2 to 3 tons of plastic trash a day. The volume of trash increases in a rainy season. However, not all kind of trash could be handled by Indra, such as those of Styrofoam and aluminum foils.
Moreover, the cooperative also tries to utilize water hyacinth plants or ‘eceng gondok’. The water plant occupies as much as 12 hectares of surface water in Citarum River (according to Indonesia Power) and they have been manually collected and their use is still on a trial phase in an effort to turn them into handicraft products. Indra also tries to create an ‘eceng gondok’-made set of a table and chairs that carries a price tag of 5 million rupiah. The cooperative could get the raw material by buying the plant from scavengers at 300,000 rupiah per mid-sized pickup’s cargo bed.
Now Bangkit Bersama Cooperative owns and operates two plastic crusher machines with a capacity of 3 tons of plastic trash a day. The cooperative also owns land plots and operating vehicles. Moreover, it also provides help and guidance to people residing outside of their village. The sales can reach up to 900 million rupiah a year.
“This trash brings us fortune. We used to cry over the trash that polluted the river, but now we get the advantage out of this condition. To dump the trash to the river is something bad indeed, but this bad practice has given us a benefit,” said Dindin, Indra’s working partner, while laughing. Dindin himself knew Indra through the internet and then he decided to leave his job of 20 years in one of the factories located in Cilegon to work with Indra and his Bangkit Bersama Cooperative.
Photo caption: (left) Community forest managed by residents of Babakan Cianjur hamlet, Cihampelas village, Cihampelas sub-district, West Bandung Regency, (right) “surface cover” of Citarum River around Cipatik Bridge, Batujajar sub-district, West Bandung Regency (27/02/14)
Factories, Forest, and Citarum Ecotourism
Indra’s next obsession is to improve and expand the cooperative business by constructing a plastic seed manufacturer. To make it happen, Indra needs to acquire a bigger capital. What he wants is to see his cooperative grow bigger, its members become economically better and their education level rise higher.
Indra’s dream does not stop there. He initiated a community forest which is managed together with other villagers. The forest is located by the edge of Citarum River stream. It was once a barren plot of land, now it is full of a variety of plants grown under an agroforestry practice.
Indra’s other dream is to introduce an ecotourism concept to his village. Citarum River, trash, community forest and close-knit villagers are more than enough initial asset to start up his dream business.
To combine and align the aspects of economy, environment and education is the initial inspiration for Indra, a man who is good at turning problems into opportunities.