Updated: Nov 14, 2022
“There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere” - Annie Leonard
Do you recognize the characters in the image above? If not then you need to travel back in time! It is one of the outstanding movies from Disney Pixar in 2008, Wall-E. The movie reminded us of how the future might be if people do not take the waste problem on earth seriously.
Let’s go back to reality. If you are active in social media or environmental-related organizations in Indonesia, you must recognize the emerging term Hari Peduli Sampah Nasional (HPSN) or National Waste Care Day. This year's National Waste Care Day theme is “Waste as an economic raw material in the pandemic era” with the purpose to boost the circular economy (Anugrah, 2021). If you do not know and are interested in the history behind the memorial, then this is the right place to read and learn. Disclaimer, there will be a glimpse of science facts and technology ahead.
The tragedy of The Leuwigajah landfill
National Waste Care Day was set by Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry on the 21st of February in 2006 to commemorate the catastrophic waste avalanche at Leuwigajah landfill, Cimahi, Bandung, West Java in 2005. The event took the lives of 143 people and buried 71 houses around the area.
Leuwigajah landfill has been operated for almost two decades (1987-2005) by three different authorities (the City of Bandung, the District of Bandung, and the City of Cimahi) and receives the waste load from surrounding cities. Before the disastrous event took place, more than 4500 tons of municipal solid waste per day were delivered daily to the landfill ㄧ It is equal to the weight of around 112 humpback whales, which is one of the largest animals on Earth. On 21 February 2005 at 02.00 am, heavy rainfall combined with a sudden release of biogas (methane) that built up inside the waste heap made the explosion and waste avalanche happen. The waste slide traveled 1000 m from the source with an average thickness of 10 m and even covered rice fields on the way. This event was comprehensively analyzed and reported by Lavigne et al. (2014).
According to Lavigne et al. (2014), other factors that contributed to the tragedy include poor landfill management and poor urban planning around the landfill. The initially controlled landfill was turned into an open dump without any regulation. There are no facilities for recycling, biogas, and leachate ― contaminated water that percolates from waste heap ― management. Fires were also reported during the event. Deep-seated fires formed due to a combination of temperature rise from an increase in oxygen level within the landfill consecutively increased aerobic bacterial activity, production of flammable and toxic gasses, and the presence of high quantities of flammable organic materials. Even the bodies of waste avalanche victims were found in a burnt condition. Moreover, there are no walls to protect people that live around the area. About 50% of people who live in the villages downslope of the landfill are scavengers who work day until night at the landfill. The natural instability of the hillslope where the landfill is established also adds to the factors (Lavigne et al., 2014). Lastly, the landfill also has been operated for more than a decade which exceeds its ideal life span of fewer than 10 years old (Purningsih, 2019).
Waste and climate change
A landfill is an open space for waste disposal by burial. The system is commonly used around the world because it is cheap despite the risk of geotechnical instability (Lavigne et al., 2014). However, it is contributing to the high carbon footprint due to greenhouse gas formation, especially in open landfills. There are better alternatives for waste management, some of them are sanitary landfill and incinerators.
Let’s mine our memory back in biology and chemistry class, shall we?
Greenhouse gases (GHG) are heat-trapping gases that cover Earth’s atmosphere like a blanket and keep the Earth’s surface temperature ideal for organisms to live. It allows sunlight to pass but prevents heat from leaving the Earth’s surface. The main GHGs are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons (Doyle, 2021). However, like anything else in the world, too much or too little greenhouse gases are also not good for Earth’s health and everything inside it. Some of you may have noticed that our planet's global temperature is increasing and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has set the limit for global warming to between 1.5-2℃ by the end of the century (Tollefson, 2018). More disastrous events might take place if Earth further warms beyond the IPCC limit.
A landfill is one of the contributing factors to global warming. Municipal solid waste that is high in organic matter will go through decomposition by bacteria and release mainly carbon dioxide with water in the presence of oxygen and mainly methane with carbon dioxide in the absence of oxygen (Saveyn & Eder, 2014). Methane is 23 times more potent in heat-trapping than carbon dioxide, but both are the most important contributor to human-caused global warming (Notosudjono et al., 2020; Doyle, 2021). The good news is methane can be captured and utilized as a source of energy to generate electricity or fuel (Notosudjono et al., 2020). Indonesia needs more research and a lot of manpower with a great effort to adopt and manage such technology.
If you are wondering how you can contribute to lessening methane and carbon dioxide generation, I will give you some hints. More people have become aware of how urgent environmental issues like waste management and climate change are. Therefore, some of them have established a learning platform or organization that focuses on educating people about the environment ― CarbonEthics is one of the examples ―, volunteering for an environmental NGO, creating a green business, or becoming an influencer and advocating through social media. For those of you who do not have the advantage or resources, you can simply support the established NGO or green business by utilizing their readily available services or products and educate yourself about environmental issues through various platforms.
Here are the simplest acts of care for our mother Earth:
We also can calculate our carbon footprint through a carbon calculator that CarbonEthics has developed. From there, we also provide a direct solution for you to offset your carbon emission through our beautiful babies that are waiting to be adopted by you. These babies will grow and sequester the emitted carbon that you cannot reduce. Just like Wall-E found the precious seedling of life that brings hope to mankind. Check it out!
To sum up
The waste avalanche that took place at the Leuwigajah landfill became a turning point for everyone, from the local government to all citizens, to be aware of the danger of uncontrolled open dumping, the importance of waste management, and how to prevent the tragedy from repeating itself. As an update, fortunately, the waste that is piled up at the Leuwigajah landfill is high in organic material content that supports the formation of soil. Therefore, nature rapidly took over to recover the abandoned landfill. Imagine if the waste is mostly composed of inorganic material with a decomposition rate of 500 years. That would be devastating for people around the area where the tragedy took place.
The Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, also reported that Indonesia’s national waste generation reached 67.8 million tons in 2020 and will keep increasing. Through this momentum, she invited all waste management stakeholders including local government to collaborate and strengthen their commitment to cultivating the potency of waste as an economic raw material, driving public participation to sort their waste, and encouraging more entrepreneurs to establish green businesses. This can be done through the implementation of five principles: waste minimization is as important as waste management, driving waste diet as a new culture, adopting circular economy and clean energy as a foundation of waste to resource, and environmentally friendly final processing (Anugrah, 2021).
“You are never too small to make a difference” - Greta Thunberg
If you enjoy reading this article, please tune-up for the next post! While waiting, consider checking out our free crash course to climate change and bleu carbon ecosystem called Carbon Voice Curriculum (CVC) or support us by visiting our website CabonEthics.org (we have cute and powerful babies for you to adopt!). Last but not least, I would like to invite all of you, readers, to reduce what you can and offset what you cannot with CarbonEthics.
Anugrah, N. (2021, 22 February). HPSN 2021, Saatnya Kelola Sampah Jadi Bahan Baku Ekonomi. [Press Conference]. PPID KLHK. Accessed on 24/02/2021 from http://ppid.menlhk.go.id/berita/siaran-pers/5829/hpsn-2021-saatnya-kelola-sampah-jadi-bahan-baku-ekonomi
Doyle, H. (2021, 11 February). Meet the Greenhouse Gases!. [Interactive Website]. NASA Climate Kids. Accessed on 25/02/2021 from https://climatekids.nasa.gov/greenhouse-cards/
Lavigne et al. (2014). The 21 February 2005, catastrophic waste avalanche at Leuwigajah dumpsite, Bandung, Indonesia. Geoenvironmental Disasters, 1:10. Doi:10.1186/s40677-014-0010-5
Notosudjono, D. et al. (2020). Characteristic evaluation of organic waste power plant in Bantargebang waste processing plant. AIP Conference Proceedings 2228, 030026. https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0000889
Purningsih, D. (2019, 22 February). National Waste Care Day 2019: Indonesia’s Landfills in Critical Condition, Expert Says. [Article]. Greeners.co. Accessed on 24/02/2021 from https://www.greeners.co/english/national-waste-care-day-2019-indonesias-landfills-in-critical-condition-expert-says/
Saveyn, H. & Eder, P. (2014). End-of-waste criteria for biodegradable waste subjected to biological treatment (compost & digestate): Technical proposals. [E-Book]. Joint Research Center. Doi:10.2791/6295
Tollefson, J. (2018). Clock ticking on climate action. [News]. Nature 562(7726), 172-173. Doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-06876-2