Coastal cleanups & waste management in Pengudang, Bintan

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On Sunday, in lieu of the Earth Day celebrations, our team co-organized a local beach cleanup and mangrove planting event along the coast of the Pengudang village in Bintan. It was great to see so much enthusiasm from everyone. We had school groups participating, NGOs, even government officials as well and everyone signed their names onto a pledge to take strategic steps that would contribute to the fight to end plastic pollution. The event was a collaboration between Banyan Tree, ISKINDO KEPRI, Pengudang Bintan Mangroves and Kabupaten Bintan. The coast here is adjacent to a huge seagrass bed, and a feeding ground for dugongs.

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Seeing so many people involved was really heartening…a reminder that coastal cleanups don’t just help to clean up the environment, it also serves a larger purpose to educate and inspire the public to enact change. This is the power of Gotong Royong, the Indonesian term to work together as a community to make a difference, and it is heartening to see the drive of the local community to participate in tree planting and other environmental events. Shout out to the amazing team at the Banyan Tree Bintan Conservation Lab, my colleagues Pak Henry Singer, Renald Yude and Adlan Bakti for organizing the event! Thanks too to Pak Iwan Winarto for helping us out. Here are some of the photos from our event.

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Signatures of NGOs, government officials, students and businesses together to end plastic pollution. GREAT NEWS ALERT! Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts has also made a bold pledge to reduce to eliminate all single-use plastic as well by Earth Day 2019, and we are now phasing out all use of plastic straws and bottles at the resort. This is an excellent example of how tourism industries can lead the way in promoting environmentalism. Read more about this pledge and the interview with Dr Steve Newman, our Group Sustainability Director over here!

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Plastic bottles accounted for the vast majority of waste that was found. All of these bottles were separated from the rest of the trash and given to a recycling facility later on.

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Our wonderful participants having fun while keeping the beach clean…Even the rain didn’t dampen their spirits!

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Too many small styrofoam pieces to pick up 😦

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Fishing nets were one of the most largest types of waste collected, and their micro-fibres were found embedded in lots of sand

 

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IMG_7140Presentation on why plastic is such a problem in Indonesia and how we can combat it (e.g. committing to reusable bags and bottles)

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Local dance and martial arts (Silat) performances

The more rubbish we collected, the more I was starting to realize that we were truly fighting a losing battle. To be honest, it felt like we were trying to shift a landfill into garbage bags. I learnt from my team that solid waste disposal is truly one of the biggest challenges that Bintan faces. One estimate I found was approximately 400 tonnes of solid waste produced by the island’s 230’000 residents a day . The island’s solution to solid waste management is to put all of it into ‘sanitary landfills’, and there is currently little to no formal collection of wastes in non-resort areas. There have been steps to improve such landfills; installing a methane gas collection and energy production system at the Ganet TPA landfill in the capital of Bintan, Tanjung Pinang, but leachate from this landfill alone could be polluting up to 0.684 km of waters in residential areas. For most residential areas, waste is typically disposed off in ‘backyard landfills’, so each kampong (Bahasa Indonesia: village) designates an area for waste to be dumped. Sometimes, this waste is burned in open fires, but most of the time, it is left to degrade on its own. In some coastal communities, unfortunately, this waste easily makes its way into mangroves and the sea. It’s great that Bintan is taking steps to start capturing methane in its landfills, and definitely a step in the right direction, but is that enough? According to the Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council in Columbia University, there is a hierarchy of waste management systems which starts at the top (reducing waste completely), and ends with open landfills and burning.

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As far as I know, there are no incineration plants for solid waste in Bintan. The benefits of installing incineration plants in Bintan are twofold—firstly, it helps reduce the quantity of solid waste and the chances of waste leaching noxious chemicals into the natural environment and secondly, it can produce energy when heat from combustion is used to produce electricity. Why hasn’t it been done? Well…because it costs a bomb. To put things into perspective, Singapore’s waste to energy incineration plant and landfill at Pulau Semakau cost a whopping SGD$ 610 million. Singapore produced around 7.70 million tonnes of solid waste in 2017, an average of about 21’096 tonnes a day. We produce around 50 times more waste per day than Bintan, so perhaps Bintan does not need something quite as elaborate and costly. But how feasible would it be to create a simpler incineration plant here and how much would that cost?

Anyway, I digress. As part of the organizing team, we requested for the event to be as plastic free as possible. That meant providing cups that participants could drink from by filling it up from a large container, rather than distributing plastic bottles. We asked caterers to prepare lunch boxes with cardboard instead of the usual styrofoam that they use. It was difficult to be completely plastic free for the event (E.g. the latex gloves that we distributed for hygiene, cutlery that came with the lunch was still plastic), but on a whole, I felt like it was a pretty good attempt. Imagine my dismay at the end of the entire event, where I realized that some of the same participants who had just helped us cleanup the beach 30 minutes ago now left their lunch boxes strewn all over the floor, plastic cutlery in the grass, gloves lying around, when trash bags were put up around the site and were definitely easily accessible.

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Our attempt to reduce plastic use at our own event

Some of the team and I spent the end of the event picking up after ourselves. ‘Oh the irony’, I sighed to myself, ‘that we had to do a cleanup of our cleanup event’. I take it as a lesson learnt, that the next time we organize such an event, that we need to be explicitly clear to everyone to clean up after themselves. Perhaps…it’s easy to forget that the first step of conservation and environmentalism is to start with ourselves? What use is taking part in events or organizing these monthly activities frequently, if we offset all this good work with our everyday bad habits? It’s definitely something to think about for sure, and I certainly hope that this cleanup will be one of many more events to come, and if you’ve got ideas on how to change the mentality people have toward plastic and waste, do leave a comment below! Next time round, we will be trying to improve our cleanups by measuring the waste collected, maybe we could even do something similar to ICCS? Something to think about I guess!

 

Disclaimer: The views reflected on this blog are mine, and do not represent the thoughts, intentions or plans of my employer/Banyan Tree Bintan. It’s a stream-of-consciousness, spontaneous collection of what I did and what I thought so my horrible memory can get a bit more help. I hope you find this interesting or inspiring in some way or another, and feel free to let me know if there are any errors/mistakes in my posts! Thanks!

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