Why Waste Bank is Important for Communities

We’re banking on local communities to create a zero waste ripple effect

An old man saunters into his banjar (local council) meeting hall. He wheels in a trolley stacked high with cardboard boxes to a spectacled man holding a hanging weight scale so his carry-on can be weighted immediately. Soon the numbers are in: 90kg—the heaviest waste by far brought in by a resident to banjar Aseman Kangin waste bank, Aseman Lestari. The spectacled man, the appointed treasurer of the waste bank, notes down the amount and the money that the man receives into a balance book. It might not be much but over time the savings could grow exponentially.

To be clear: waste bank is for the long term, like a mutual fund that allows you to deposit money in a small amount but the return will reward a considerable sum after several years. But the “long-term” here goes beyond people—it is for people as it is for the environment. One of the pressing problems the world is facing today is waste: we produce on average 5000 tons of waste per day, and only a sliver of it are managed responsibly. So, instead of throwing it away, a waste bank encourages you to keep your waste, and sell it.

As part of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the U.N. advocates Responsible Consumption and Production which can be achieved through a circular economy practice that includes substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse; and ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature—both (hopefully) to become the norm by 2030.

The concept of a waste bank, along with consistent dissemination of environmental awareness, fulfills those two points. Admittedly a waste bank superficial aim might seem money-driven: slap a price on your used water bottle, and our adult mind immediately goes “ka-ching!”There might not be an altruistic motivation that underlines it, and that’s fair enough. But for some things to change, especially when we’re talking about the environment, any form of catalyst is welcomed to achieve the SGD’s 2030 deadline.

“We formed our own waste bank, Aseman Lestari, last year. And initially it was super difficult to encourage people to join and create this new habit of separating their own waste,” says Dewan, the aforementioned treasurer. “But I’m happy to say that now, for some people at least, they no longer consider separating waste a burden. In fact, some of the older people would take a stroll around the neighborhood and they’d bring home waste they pick up on the streets.”

Would You Like to Make a Deposit or a Withdrawal?

OK, by now you’re probably wondering: well, how does a waste bank actually work?

If you’re imagining a dedicated building with a courteous security guard greeting you at the front to ask—don’t, as in don’t expect your normal bank façade and other characteristics that entails. The community-based waste bank usually has no dedicated building other than their banjar meeting hall that will be make-shifted as the spot where members can bring in their separated waste once or twice every month, the frequency sometimes dictated by their waste volume at any given moment. A team of staff will be appointed to manage and run the waste bank, such as the chief, the deputy, and the treasurer, and they’re in charge of reminding the members to deposit their waste on a monthly basis.

The tools at hand are the hanging weight scale and a balance book. And once everything is collected and weighted, ecoBali—under our own waste bank extension, Ini Bukan Sampah—will come in to note the waste and its value, then collect and ship them so it can be recycled properly. It’s as simple as that.

ecoBali’s waste bank aims to orient the program towards the local community where awareness of responsible waste management still needs more nudging. We will approach and socialize the concept to people at the banjar, and once they are interested, we provide them with the necessary training and tools to get their own waste bank up and running, and every month we’ll monitor and evaluate the progress.

“More so than anything else, the reason why we constantly try to introduce and socialize the concept of a waste bank—be that to hotels, schools or local communities—is that we want them to be more aware of the environment,” says Bintang Reditya, project coordinator for Ini Bukan Sampah. “We want them to know that their waste can be recycled and have a new life, and you can actually make money from it.”

For some of the locals, the money earned serve as a great source of retirement funds or emergency funds reserve for special occasions or ceremonies. And as a bonus, the environment is cleaner because of it! “The environment in my banjar is noticeably cleaner ever since we formed our own waste bank,” says De Wan. “And gradually the residents learned the importance of separating their own waste, and realized that their non-organics have value.”

The high school science teacher’s waste bank has so far amassed around 180kg of recyclables each month since last year. “You know, initially we only had 10 active members, and most of them were old people who naturally have more time at their disposal, but slowly the mindset has started to change, and now we have 50 members, and they come from all age groups, even elementary kids.”

If you look at social media or television coverage these days, you might get the impression that Bali, if not being highly touted as being a tropical paradise, is one waste-full island. Indeed a part of it is true, but as was said before, to break one’s habit does require a bit of patience and all we can do is take action instead of constantly lamenting the situation. Banjar Kulibul Kangin and Aseman Kangin have done just that. In fact, Aseman Kangin, prior to having a waste bank, has been organizing regular clean-ups (called kerja bakti or  gotong royong in Indonesian) around the neighborhood, either 2 or 3 times a month. And now where does all the collected waste go to?

Why to the waste bank, of course.


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