Reducing or avoiding?

So what can we personally do about the waste emergency? And what do others do already?

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Reducing waste

In October last year, a rule for customers in Indonesia to pay for plastic bags at stores was scrapped by a Retail Enterprises Association. This was a huge step backwards in the efforts to reduce waste and protect the environment. However, the city of Bandung recently prohibited the use of styrofoam packaging, not only for restaurants and food vendors, who pack takeaway food, but also for bigger industries. The city aims not only to save the rivers from being inundated with Styrofoam, which causes flooding, but also to protect the health of its citizens. Styrofoam is known to contain cancer-causing chemicals.

The United Nations also finally declared a war on waste. By introducing the „CleanSeas campaign“, they demand greater involvement from governments in the reduction of plastic waste. Industries shall reduce plastic packaging and design products more sustainably. Consumers are requested to rethink their wastefulness „before our oceans suffer from further irreversible damage“, the UN states.

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It is possible in small steps on a local level as well, as the Jogja community school proves. They have introduced “plastic-free days, on which the students are not allowed to bring any disposable plastic to school. This way, the students and their parents learn that it is possible to bring snacks and drinks without using plastic and hopefully adopt this change in their daily habits.

The real solution

The obvious solution is avoiding disposable packaging altogether. It is not only the waste that is produced that causes environmental and health problems. Most environmental impacts take place during the manufacturing of the product.

Recycling is definitely needed. But there are different grades of plastic. When recycled, plastic is most often down-cycled into a lower grade. The lower the grade the less the value. The less the value, the less likely it is to be recycled again.

So we need to prevent environmental harm before it happens. This is a much more sustainable approach to just treating the symptoms of the problem. While the waste problem obviously has to be addressed by the government, we can all contribute by avoiding disposable plastic products as much as possible.

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Are there alternatives to plastic?

Some big companies are trying to tackle the plastic waste in the oceans by recycling it into yarn and creating fancy clothes. Parley for the Oceans and Adidas produce a shoe made out of ocean plastic and old fishing nets. G-Star and the musician Pharrel Williams promote their „bionic yarn“ made from PET bottles that were collected in the oceans. While this is definitely a good way to advocate for the use of less plastic, it doesn’t solve the problem as such. Each time plastic based clothes are washed, small particles dissolve and are washed back into rivers and oceans.

There are other companies that have developed alternative products to address the ever-increasing amount of plastic that is thrown away every day. The Indian start-up Bakeys produces baked edible spoons, knives and chopsticks that come in different flavours. If they are not eaten, they biodegrade within 5 days. The German company Leaf Republic sells disposable plates made from leaves. These are as stable as plastic and fully biodegradable.

In Indonesia, several inspiring alternatives are on the market.

The Bali-based company Avani offers plastic bags made from cassava, which are completely degradable and compostable and can break down under water and on land.

XXLab, a female collective from Jogja is focusing on art, science and free technology. They use the waste that is produced in soy production and that would otherwise pollute the rivers to develop edible cellulose, biofuel and bio leather.

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XXLab

How can I take responsibility for what I consume?

Reduce your consumption of plastic items!

  • Buy „refill“ packages for shampoo/oil/soap etc
  • Bring your own shopping bag or ask for a box instead of several plastic bags in the supermarket
  • Buy your vegetables and fruit at a market where they are not wrapped in plastic and politely decline having them packed in a plastic bag, but use your own bag instead.
  • Use refillable bottles/ containers for food
  • Repair broken things instead of throwing them away and buying new ones

Make sure your waste gets recycled!

  • Join a bank sampah
  • Buy recycled/upcycled products
  • The initiative „Take 3“ encourages everyone to collect 3 pieces of waste wherever you go and throw them somewhere where they can be collected for recycling.

Make sure everyone knows the problem!

  • Ask your favourite shop/ restaurant not to use as much plastic anymore as it is important to you as a customer
  • Demand the banning of plastic bags as is already the case in Rwanda and Bangladesh, soon to be followed by France and the state of California #banthebag
  • Talk about reducing waste with your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
  • Stop burning plastic or throwing waste into rivers and the ocean and prevent others from doing so!

Where to consume and buy eco-friendly/plastic-free in Jogja

  • While there is still a lot of plastic in the city, at least big supermarket chains such as Superindo and Mirota promote reusable bags and paper boxes instead of plastic bags.
  • Milas sells recycled handmade paper
  • ViaVia Fair Trade Shop tries to avoid plastic packaging
  • Milas and ViaVia sell  beautiful reusable bags
  • Lokaloka uses „we are not plastic“ bags and bamboo straws and you can return their juice bottles
  • Warung kita also sells these bamboo straws
  • At organic markets you are encouraged to bring your own bags and containers
  • Avanti cassava-based bags can be purchased online or at Mediterana restaurant/ at Sri Gaia at the Milas organic market.

We really hope that this is a very incomplete list and would love to hear from you about further shops/ restaurants etc that offer or use products that are an alternative to plastic. Please let us know and we will update the list! Thank you!

Yummy Organic Vegetables

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There is a small but vibrant scene of organic markets in Yogyakarta. More and more people are opting for this healthy alternative to regular vegetables. Others also care about the benefits organic farming has in terms of protecting the environment. Some may wonder what the advantage of eating organic vegetables is. What is all the fuss about it and why are they more expensive than the usual veggies that you can find everywhere?

Organic farming is about being in tune with nature, not about fighting it with chemicals. In that way, not only the consumer benefits from healthy, yummy tasting food, but also the earth profits from such methods. Come to a local organic market and let the organic farmer of your choice explain how it works!

Mas Ari, an organic farmer in Pakem, Yogyakarta
Mas Ari, an organic farmer in Pakem, Yogyakarta

Why Organic?

Organic farming means working with nature, not against it. It means lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides, orortificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment. It is about keeping the local variety of seeds, that can be reproduced without being dependent on international agrobusinesses. 

It Takes Hard Work and A Lot Of Love

„It takes hard work and a lot of love“, says Mbak Septi, an organic farmer who sells her products with her husband Mas Budi at Milas organic market. To make sure that pesticides and chemical fertilizers do not infiltrate their water from neighboring farms, the water has to be filtered. For Mas Ari, an organic farmer in Pakem, the process of farming on soil where conventional agriculture took place before took three years. The soil on which pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been used needed this time to recover fully. In the meantime he could not sell his products as „organic“, although he already obeyed all the principles of organic farming. As there is no organic fertilizer on the market, farmers have to produce their own by composting. It is also very hard to protect plants from animals and diseases without pesticides. This is all more time-consuming than the regular way. And so the farmers have to add something to the price in order to be able to live from what they do. „It is enough to send my kids to school, but not for much more than that“, says Mas Ari.

On the other hand, organic farming is also about taking care of nature. Seeing her neighbors overusing pesticides and artificial fertilizers makes Mbak Septi so sad that she almost cries. „How can you do this to the soil that nourishes you? How can you do this to the soil that is supposed to nourish your children?“

A Rocky Road

In Indonesia, many farmers all over the country decide to leave their jobs and look for prestigious or better-paid jobs in the cities. This movement, the fact that more and more agricultural land is used for other purposes, such as buildings, and that the population of Indonesia is constantly growing, make for a dangerous combination.

Although Indonesia is a nation with one of the biggest varieties of edible plants, it is difficult and sometimes not possible anymore to buy organic seeds for certain plants. This leads to a decrease in the variety of local vegetables.

Moreover, there is a big dependence on international agro-businesses such as Monsanto, both on a small scale (individual farmers) and a large scale. The Indonesian government depends on Monsanto as their sole provider of rice seeds. Consequently, most of the country also depends on the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that the company sells.

Mbak Septi and Mas Budi, organic farmers from Yogyakarta
 Vegetable Smoothies Recipes by Mbak Septi

Prepare 4 petiole of ginseng leaves, 1 sprig of moringa leaves, 3 sprigs of purslane, 1 local coriander leave, 3 sprigs of mint leaves, 4 sprigs of basil (optional), 1 passion fruit,  wash carefully, add 3 pieces of banana,  then blend it with enough drinking  water. Enjoy!

Don’t Let the Knowledge Be Lost

In Yogyakarta, the organic movement started in the 1990s. „Back then, not many people knew about the risks of modern farming“, explains Imam Hidayat, one of the founders of the SAHANI cooperative, which tries to combine the efforts of small organic farmers who also practice fair trade.

Mas Dhana, a social business entrepreneur who sells organic vegetables and fruit to restaurants and at markets, tried to approach agricultural universities in Yogyakarta to see how organic farming could be incorporated into the curriculum. „So far, universities do not teach about organic farming at all. They are influenced by companies like Monsanto“. This makes it extremely hard for the ones trying to spread the knowledge to reach out to conventional farmers or young university graduates.

And even today, not many people are aware of the damage that conventional agriculture causes to our health and to nature. „Conventional agriculture (and its) input of synthetic chemicals or fertilizers (UREA, NPK, etc) accounts for a large amount of the greenhouse gas emissions“. It also „deteriorates soil quality, and eliminates biodiversity“.

So the challenge is to teach the next generation to learn again how to farm organically, as their families used to only a generation or two ago. If we look at most of the world’s agriculture today, it seems like there is no alternative to the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, especially if we listen to the big agro-chemical companies, who try to make us believe that only size and profit count. We should not forget that this road leads to the extinction of local knowledge and biodiversity. Only one or two generations ago, farmers all over the country produced healthy food without being dependent on UREA, a commonly used fertilizer.

Respect and Appreciate!

Nevertheless, slowly but steadily, the demand for organic vegetables is growing. Mas Ari receives visitors from other organic cooperatives and government offices who want to learn from his example. This makes him proud and hopeful that one day, more farmers will follow and do what is best for the earth and the consumer.  He wishes that consumers knew where their vegetables come from, and who put all the hard work into them to make them as healthy and nourishing as they are.

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Organic vegetables from Kopeng

What consumers can do

  • Appreciate and value the work that farmers put into the food we buy and eat
  • Help to spread the idea of eating organic vegetables
  • Support organic farmers by buying from them directly
  • Bring your own containers and bags when you go shopping
  • Ask supermarkets to sell the organic food without all the plastic wrapping

Oh so healthy!

Mas Dhana started changing his diet and getting involved in organic agriculture when both of his parents died of diabetes. He realized that a healthy lifestyle begins with what you eat. Simply adding some organic vegetables to your otherwise unhealthy diet does not make you a healthy person. However, according to a study by Newcastle University (England), consuming organic vegetables, fruit and cereals leads to an increase in nutritionally desirable antioxidants, without an increased intake of calories, as well as a reduced intake of potentially harmful 8 cadmium and pesticides.

But it is more than that – the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has bad effects on our health and causes severe environmental damage.

Plastic? No thanks!

The holistic concept of farming organically also comprises the reduction of waste. Mbak Septi and Mas Budi became very creative when looking for material in which they could grow and sell their plants. They use old bags or coconuts. Mas Ari tries to reduce the use of plastic as much as he can, but as the weather is not as reliable as it used to be, because of climate change, he has to use plastic sheets as roofs to protect his plants from UV rays.

Next to Mas Aris’s farm, six other organic farmers produce partly for big supermarkets, where organic vegetables wrapped in plastic and styrofoam are offered. This is actually contradictory to the principle of  living with nature, as plastic is non-degradable (cannot be composted) and should therefore not be thrown away after using it once. At Milas organic market, vendors use banana leaves to wrap their products. Consumers are also asked to bring their own containers and bags.

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Yummy organic snacks, available at the organic market of your choice

Where to shop organic vegetables in Yogya?

Pasar Milas : Parking Area of Milas Resto, Jl. Karangkajen (Prawirotaman IV/ 127 B) Yogyakarta, Telepon 0851-0142-3399, open hours : 10am-1pm, only on Wednesday and Saturday.  Milas_jogja@yahoo.co.id.

Sasen organic market: every 1st Sunday of a month at 10am-1pm, with rotating positions:

1. Parakan Kulon, Sendangsari, Minggir Sleman / 2. Rumahmakan LegorosoNugroho, Brayut, Pandowoharjo, Sleman. / 3. Rumah Mas Tri/Betet, Penen, Hargibinangun, Pakem, Sleman 

Pasar Kamisan: Gandok, Jl. Kaliurang Km. 9,3, Sariharjo, Ngaglik, Sleman, Yogyakarta, open every Thursday at 10am-1pm. 

Pasar Demangan : Jl. Demangan Baru no. 9a, Caturtunggal, Depok, Sleman, Yogyakarta, open every Friday at 4pm-7pm. 

Pasar Siliran : Jalan Siliran Lor No. 6, Panembahan, Kraton, Kota Yogyakarta, open every Tuesday at 10am-1pm. 

Based On Trust

There are several systems to certify land as „organic“ in Indonesia. To receive such a certificate is quite costly. The farmers’ cooperative Mardi Santoso in Kopeng, which was certified organic by the Department of Agriculture, Crops and Horticulture in 2011, decided not to renew their certificate this year, as only 5 of the 50 farmers have continued farming organically and even the remaining ones have found it difficult to follow the regulations. „We decided to sell our vegetables as „healthy“, not as „organic“ anymore, says Pak Subari, one of the members of the cooperative.

As there is no product-based label marking vegetables as organic, consumers have to trust their farmers. So it is best to buy organic vegetables directly at the market, where the farmers can explain how they grew the product. Mbak Septi and Mas Budi know exactly what they are selling. „We know every single plant and treat each of them almost as our children“.

In Europe, labels for organic products were a milestone in the organic movement. Now organic products are sold nearly everywhere and control mechanisms make it easy to check on the producer’s credibility. But a label remains a tool. What is more important is the idea behind it: To keep the knowledge, and maintain the appreciation of nature. At local markets, you can talk to the farmers and let them explain to you, how they follow this concept, even if their land is not certified. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

 Our next edition will be on waste and upcycling. If you are interested in collaborating or have an interesting topic for another edition of SEMAR (sustainable, ecofriendly, social), please let us know!