Trash Into Treasure, One Sheet at a Time
That old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” speaks volumes to Kiswinar and Abdul Salam. When they look at used paper they don’t see trash, but the raw material to create artwork and develop small businesses that can provide jobs.
For Kiswinar it all started in 2008. He was so frustrated with his lack of drawing skills, necessary for his visual communication design studies, that he started to search for other media that he could use to channel his creativity.
“I tried to use paper as a material to create artwork and it turned out well, so I shared this idea with my friends and eventually I established this community called Komunitas Pecinta Kertas, or the paper lovers community,” he said.
The community, whose acronym, KPK, is the same as the country’s anticorruption agency, has shown that it can do good things for the people and the environment, just like its namesake, though in quite a different fashion.
Kiswinar said he wanted to generate awareness that the life span of paper was not limited and that there were many things you could do with the material after its initial use, such as making three-dimensional artwork.
“We want to provoke thought and creativity, and let people know that paper garbage can still be used for many other purposes and one of them is to produce works of art,” he said.
The community, which is headquartered in Bekasi, has produced a number of works including statues, which, with a few aesthetic embellishments, can be used as decorations or props.
Everything is made from the many types of waste paper the group collects or receives from other parties who have heard about Kiswinar and friends and their almost magical touch with what the rest of us think of as garbage.
Kiswinar said the group had almost 2,000 members, and emphasized that membership was not limited to people with the artistic ability to create paper crafts. The KPK has become a forum for anyone who cares about the environment and Indonesia’s trash problem to share ideas on reusing paper garbage.
“In fact, most of our members do not have an artistic background, but they can participate by providing the community with used paper from their homes or offices. They don’t know what to do with the used paper, yet they don’t have the heart to just throw it away,” Kiswinar said.
“They feel much better for not having to discard the paper since they know the KPK will find a way to reuse it.”
In addition to campaigning for the reuse of waste paper, the community also wants to raise awareness about using paper wisely, which Kiswinar said was the initial step that would create a domino effect for sustaining the environment.
“Awareness of using paper wisely would reduce paper consumption, which in turn would reduce paper production, energy consumption to produce the paper and eventually reduce the number of trees being cut down to make paper,” he said. “It’s a chain reaction that starts from a simple thing, such as an individual awareness to use paper wisely.
“It is the least that an individual can do right here and right now to contribute to protecting the environment as we embark on creating a collective awareness that might be difficult to achieve. We have to start now, and we can’t expect the next generation to use paper wisely if we don’t set the example.”
A fellow traveler is Abdul Salam, who runs a small business out of a modest workshop, Kedai Daur Ulang, in Mampang Prapatan, South Jakarta, recycling waste paper into colorful, artistic products.
A former environmental and waste management activist, Salam decided in 1996 to focus on paper waste as part of his campaign for better waste management.
“This is an effort that can be done by individuals or small groups using efficient and appropriate techniques,” he said. “It can be set up in a residential area because it does not require large parcels of land and there are no adverse effects on the surrounding environment and people.”
He added that his recycled paper production used waste paper that he received from different sources.
“Generally, we use all kinds of paper since, in principle, they can always be recycled, but I would avoid using paper that was used as packaging for chemical materials or pesticides since they could carry the risk of contamination,” he said.
The process that Salam uses to recycle the waste paper starts with soaking it in water for four days to soften it before turning the soggy paper into pulp using blenders.
The pulp is then put into wooden frames that come in various standard sizes of paper, such as A2, A3 and A4. The entire process, which requires the use of 30 liters of water, normally takes a week.
“At the start of the process, I use 30 liters of water to soak the waste paper and I reuse the water repeatedly throughout the process to minimize the use of water as much as possible,” Salam said.
He said that he could produce up to 30 sheets of A4 recycled paper out of one kilogram of waste paper, and that he processed 50 to 75 kilograms of waste paper on a daily basis.
He sells the recycled paper to bookstores and other outlets through a distributor, though there are customers who purchase it directly from his workshop.
“I just try to look at the real fact that waste paper is not just trash, but has some economic value, and I’m trying to take concrete action based on the fact that trash can always be used as raw material to start a business and generate income,” Salam said.
According to data from the city administration, Jakarta produces up to 6,000 tons of waste daily and most of it ends up in the city’s final dump site, Bantar Gebang in Bekasi.
Through his home business, Salam has created jobs for five permanent employees. And when he receives bulk orders, Salam hires temporary employees to help with the extra work.
A regular contributor of waste paper to Salam’s workshop is Lintec Indonesia, a producer of sticky notes and printing-related products based in Bogor. The company has been sending 80 to 100 kilograms of paper garbage each month to Salam’s workshop since April.
A spokesman for Lintec, Happy Karunia Robbi, said that as a company whose business was all about paper, Lintec wanted to reduce the volume of its paper waste, which used to be mixed with other types of trash that would normally be burned.
Happy said that what Salam did in his workshop set an example of proper waste management, and that with more support from businesses and the government, these types of efforts could be expanded to create more jobs and help reduce poverty in the country.
“Paying attention to industrial waste management efforts that are more environmentally friendly could be an initial step for the business community to preserve the environment without hindering industrial growth,” he said.
The Jakarta administration announced in May that it was working on the Jakarta Waste Management Master Plan 2012-32, which would streamline waste management efforts in the city. Once completed, it will be passed as a regional bylaw on waste management, pending approval from the City Council.
Last year’s Asian Green City Index, released by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked Jakarta as average in overall performance as well as in environmental governance. The city was ranked well below average in the waste category.
Kiswinar, however, doesn’t like to use the word “green” when talking about the efforts of his group. He says the term has become highly politicized by various interest groups.
Hidetoshi Nishimura, the executive director of the Jakarta-based Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA), said that while there was a political discourse around the term “green,” people needed to make the best of the present situation without focusing on the controversies and disputes surrounding the issue.
“What communities can do to promote green development is volunteer, social devotion, less egoism and basic human novelty,” Nishimura said.
Those traits listed by Nishimura are what Kiswinar and Salam have been doing for their parts in promoting green development.
“But we are not dreaming for the moon,” Kiswinar said. “We just hope that people will have a strong awareness of using paper wisely for the sake of the future.”