Apr 02, 2023 Last Updated 2:07 AM, Mar 22, 2023

Jakarta's rubbish nightmare

Published: Jul 26, 2007

Anton Lucas

With 13.2 million people, Jakarta is now the world’s tenth largest city. Where does all the rubbish go? Add the issue of decentralisation and regional autonomy and Jakarta’s garbage is a stinking time-bomb waiting to explode.

Jakarta produces as much as 6,250 tons of rubbish a day. It does not have enough trucks to collect all the rubbish, let alone enough space to put it. For 17 years the Jakarta administration has used a 108 hectare tract of land in the neighbouring municipality of Bekasi as a dump. Jakarta had what it thought was a water-tight deal. So when the Bekasi administration decided to raise the ‘rent’ on the land, all hell let loose. Before 1998 it would have been unthinkable that Bekasi could challenge the powerful Capital City Special District (Daerah Khusus Ibukota, DKI). But under regional autonomy, it has a whole lot more clout.

The dispute

On 31 December 2003 the Bekasi administration signed a new agreement with Jakarta. This agreement gave Bekasi management responsibility for the dump. But confusion reigned over the interpretation of the contract. The Bekasi administration claimed that it owned the land, and had the right to manage it. But Jakarta wanted to keep control of its biggest dump.

Under the Regional Autonomy Act (23/1999), the mayor of Bekasi has to meet his municipal budget deficit. For him the dump is a potential pot of gold. He imposed a levy of Rp 85,000 (A$14) per ton of rubbish dumped. In addition, he calculated that Bekasi could make money out of recycling, making organic fertiliser, and converting the gas produced by rubbish into electricity.

The levy made no sense to the Jakarta administration who claimed the site belonged to them. ‘How can they manage the rubbish dump and charge us a levy when we own the land, the equipment and the technology, and the employees running the dump are our employees?’ asked an angry Selamat Limbong, head of the Jakarta Sanitation Division (Dinas Kebersihan Kota). But according to Bekasi, Jakarta never processed their hak pakai (right of use) over the land, so it still legally belongs to the community.

Local action

Legal or not, the dump was a fiefdom under the New Order regime, and no local people were allowed in. But since reformasi began the local community has complained long and loudly. They want access to this lucrative ‘unnatural’ resource, or at least compensation for living with the stench. At the Bekasi dump site, the rubbish is left to decay uncovered. After 16 years, and 36 million tons of rubbish, there is a stinking six metre high mountain of unburied organic and inorganic waste — not to mention the effluent (lindi), which seeps into the soil, into the ground water, and into the wells.

At the beginning of January this year, local residents blockaded the road to the dump, forcing dozens of rubbish trucks to park along the roadside. They were protesting about the lack of proper landfill, the smell, and the liquid runoff, none of which is permitted under Bekasi’s agreement with Jakarta. The dump is not supposed to be used for wet waste (sampah basah). The governor of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, was furious at the protest. He ordered that the dump be padlocked, and that the trucks dump their load in various swampy sites around the city. During the crisis temporary dumps were set up in three emergency sites in North and East Jakarta. This just created more problems.

At Cilincing, in North Jakarta, residents were watching TV late one night when they heard the sound of heavy vehicles revving their engines. Outside their houses, curious residents were startled to find 26 trucks emptying their rubbish on a 2.1 hectare empty block across the road. The stench was appalling. When asked, the head of the Jakarta Sanitation Division said that the emergency situation would ‘only last for six months’. Six months? Residents complained that they could imagine what would happen to their well water supply if the rubbish was dumped near their homes for six months.

The Bekasi rubbish dump dispute was an opportunity for a pre-election campaign warm up. Taufiq Kiemas, President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s husband, visited communities living around the closed dump, ‘granting scholarships to poor children’ and distributing 21,000 notebooks with covers bearing the face of Bekasi’s deputy mayor, who is head of the Bekasi branch of Megawati’s PDI-P.

The Bekasi dump is now back in business. It provides a livelihood for 6000 sorters (pemulung), who make up to A$14 per day sorting rubbish. Investors are beginning to realise what the sorters have known for a long time — that recycling makes money.

Anton Lucas (anton.lucas@flinders.edu.au) lectures in Asian Studies at Flinders University.

Inside Indonesia 80: Oct - Dec 2004

Latest Articles

‘Tricked by a hoax’

Mar 22, 2023 - JENNY MUNRO

Truth and irrational violence in West Papua

Photo essay: Welcoming Ramadan in Yogyakarta

Mar 15, 2023 - MARK WOODWARD

In the month before the fasting period, Javanese Muslims perform a diversity of sacred rituals

Accountability missing in action


Joko Widodo’s acknowledgement of past gross human rights abuses falls short

Local shari'a or human rights?


The debate about school uniforms is an ongoing struggle between those supporting the implementation of certain moral and religious standards and those who see such a choice as a basic...

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.


Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar