This article written by Simran Ishwar was published in Indonesia Expat Newspaper January 6 – February 2, 2022, Edition (click here to read it) & the web version of Indonesia Expat Newspaper January 6 – February 2, 2022, Edition.
The awareness and concern for the environment in Indonesia in comparison to other countries is still generally quite lacking. Yet, as time goes by, it has taught us to become increasingly aware of our environment and if there is one thing the Pandemic has taught us is to love our planet and nature more. Nurture and care for it as by doing so we can live healthier lives. There are so many aspects of our environment that have been destroyed by our lack of attention. One of the biggest and main concerns in Indonesia especially in Jakarta would be the trash pile that keeps piling up in various areas. Plastic waste and trash, in general, is something that will always be there. But there are ways to cut them down to a bare minimum based on the amount of information we now have regarding the types of wastes that can be segregated and recycled.
Plastic is one such waste that can be recycled into various creative products. There are many organisations that have surged up with the need to do something for the environment. They recycle plastic and many other types of waste into valuable products for us to consume. One such organisation that does this is XSProject (XS meaning excessive). XSProject is an initiative that was established in 2004, based on its concern for the environment, lack of awareness of disposing of garbage in its place, and many trash pickers in Jakarta. XSProject mainly focuses on one of the trash pickers communities in the Cirendeu area.
As a non-profit organisation, XSProject has been through a long-winded journey of ups and downs. Their goal has always been to encourage consumers to reduce waste and use products from waste that they have created themselves, so the process is not as quick and smooth as expected. When their initial journey began in 2004, it was because of their concern for the environment and social problems, especially the trash pickers. To help clean up garbage in Jakarta, XSProject started an initiative to buy garbage that the trash pickers didn’t manage to sell with the hope that this purchase can add to their additional income. The plastic packaging waste collected by the trash pickers is then processed again through a sorting and washing process, so it can finally become a raw material that can be used to make new quality and functional products. When making their recycled products, XSProject only uses waste that is not picked up by trash pickers, so as not to reduce their livelihood, because there is still a lot of waste that cannot be utilized which can be reused, repurposed, and upcycled into new products.
With time and by continuing to focus on its vision and mission, the Foundation has gradually developed. They ultimately were able to create a company that distributes products from recycling which then continued the campaign to reduce waste and use products from their waste. Retno Hapsari (Head of the Foundation) says “Our products are used as a campaign tool and a means of reminding and educating people to refuse or reduce waste and to think of solutions about unprocessed waste.”
As people are starting to realise more about plastic as a cause for environmental waste, XSProject also educates the trash pickers children including children who are not trash pickers regarding the importance of reducing waste and avoiding plastic. But, educating them is a challenge because their parents collect plastic waste as part of their livelihood. In their daily life, they are all surrounded by not only plastic but other garbage. On one hand, they are taught to reduce, but on the other hand, their parents must collect them to be sold and made into products. Therefore, the project mainly focuses on breaking the generational cycle of thinking that picking trash is not their only option.
To continue their efforts to support the children, pre-pandemic the organisation constructed a facility centre for the children and families. After the construction process was completed, the pandemic occurred which turned out to be a blessing for the children in providing them with learning support facilities. The children including high school and college students studying remotely can come to the facility to use the internet access to complete their assignments and do zoom video calls for their school activities. During the pandemic, they also carried out health check activities at the facility for the children and their parents.
Throughout her journey at XSProject, what motivates Retno is seeing the progress and desire of the trash pickers’ children to change and get the highest education possible so that they can get out of the trash picking generation’s circle. The foundation over time has produced success stories of their children graduating not only from elementary school but some have become university graduates. In the beginning, it was very difficult to convince parents (trash pickers) on the importance of education for their children. Mothers in the community shared how in their childhood they wanted to go to high school but couldn’t. So, this is a chance for them that their children won’t be like them. They can also see the importance of education for their children by reaping the benefits of joining the foundation.
XSProject has been around for 15 years and we may wonder have they made a significant impact? Retno says “It all depends on money and resources. The waste problem is not only about receiving the money to be able to go to school. Because this is a social problem and a problem of habit, a mindset that takes a long time. Even though XSProject has existed for a long time now, trash pickers will be there as the garbage is still there. If the mindset is not changed, everything will be the same. We cannot get away from the trash we collect because we don’t have many choices.” Hence, their impact is more indirect by changing the mindset through education as they want to make the trash pickers and their children comfortable and live a prosperous life. For example, providing cleaner and better bathroom facilities for trash pickers so they can live healthier lives. A moving story that Retno shared was about Pak Noto who was previously a trash picker at XSProject but due to the pandemic, he went back to his village. In his village, he started farming which made him happier, gave him a better income and a more comfortable life. Thus, XSProject achieved their target by making an impact on him as his mindset had changed through their education to try something else for a better livelihood.
The foundation continues to strive to be one of the solutions for turning unwanted waste into functional and quality products and focusing on changing the lives of trash pickers’ children to get a better future than their parents. So, the question of how impactful any organisation is, that is doing an inspiring job as XSProject, is for all of us to think about. As they cannot do it alone, we must all join our hands together to take the step to change our mindset for a cleaner and better environment. We must as Retno says, “care for the environment and care for the people”.