Plastic in the oceans

Some weeks ago, we spent a night in Parangtritis. It was pouring down that night. When we woke up, the clouds were gone, but the beach looked like a dump-site. The waste that people upriver in Yogyakarta had thrown into the rivers had been swept into the ocean and part of it was being washed ashore by the waves.

Globally, 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually flows into the oceans. This means that every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is “thrown” into the seas. If this continues, this could mean that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.


Just the tip of the iceberg

Most of the plastic in the oceans is not washed back to the shore, but creates gigantic garbage swirls. In the midst of the ocean you will find huge circular sea currents, which absorb the plastic waste and rotate it constantly. The most famous garbage swirl is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the North Pacific, which is growing every year. It has reached the size of Kalimantan and Sumatra combined.

In every km2 of the ocean, you can find up to 46,000 pieces of plastic waste. The amount of plastic floating at the surface is so big that it can be seen from space – huge garbage „carpets“ that move with the currents. However, the plastics floating at the surface are only the tip of the iceberg. More than 70 percent of the plastic waste sinks to the seabed. Only 15% is washed back to the land. If you visit some beaches in Bali these days it is hard to imagine that it is only that small percentage. There are plastic bags, old plastic shoes and all kinds of waste along the once picture-perfect stretches of sand.


A disastrous fate 

Coastal inhabitants and sea creatures are suffering from the plastic overload. 267 marine species are directly affected by the plastic waste, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. Turtles get trapped in old fishing nets and nylon strings, and they feed on plastic bags, as they confuse them with jellyfish. Toxic additives in the plastic that dissolve into the sea affect the oceans’ flora and fauna. Partly decomposed plastic particles can be found everywhere in our oceans. Fish, shrimp and small organisms such as plankton eat them and so they come back through the food chain to human beings in the end.

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What can we personally do about this shocking development? Stay tuned and follow us on


Plastic- a blessing or a curse?


Introduced 100 years ago, there are many advantages to plastic. It is lighter than metal or glass, easily formed, stable and inexpensive to produce,  While my parents can still remember the first plastic object that their parents bought, I was already surrounded by it as a child. Nowadays, plastic is everywhere. There are many varieties and multiple ways of using it. Babies are given plastic pacifiers, kids play with plastic toys, we all have a pair or two of plastic flip flops. Everyday, we produce large amounts of plastic waste as almost everything is wrapped and then packed again in plastic.

There is no away!

plastic collectors at one of Yogya’s biggest dumpsites in Imogiri

Plastics are made from petrol chemicals. These chemicals cannot be absorbed back into the ecologies around us. Plastics don’t biodegrade, they photo-degrade. This means that plastic (in contact with water or the sun) after years and years will slowly break into smaller poisonous pieces. Eventually they are so small, that they absorbed by the plants, fish and animals that we eat. When burned, plastic creates poisonous dioxin molecules that then rain back down onto fields and forests. This means that we cannot simply throw plastic away as it will stick around for generations.

Why is this a problem? 

There are many! Let us start with the problems that affect us directly.

Plastic is not only harmful when it is
thrown away. Plasticizers in toys or other plastic items can cause cancer. Many of the ingredients in plastic items that are on the market here, are forbidden in Europe. These harmful substances can be found in the blood of almost all of us and work in a similar way to hormones. They can seriously damage our hormonal systems.  Studies have shown a link between infertility and cancer in men due to harmful substances in plastic. Other effects are birth and degenerative diseases. Dangerous  BPA  molecules which cause heart disease are found in plastic boxes, tooth fillings and tins. These molecules bioaccumulate in our bodies and are passed on through mothers to the young.

Stop burning plastic!

Cows living permanently on a huge dump site in Imogiri, Yogyakarta

Some try to get rid of plastic waste by burning it openly on the street or in their backyard. This is dangerous to our health. Poisons such as carbon monoxide are released into the air. These poisons cause cancer, impotence, asthma, many allergies and respiratory diseases.

Toxic components inhaled through smoke from burning plastic materials may cause hormonal imbalance. Researchers found that inhaling burnt plastic materials causes an alteration in the sexual characteristics of birds (from male to female). They have discovered the same defects can easily occur in human beings.

Setting plastic on fire simply does not reach high enough temperatures to destroy many of the dangerous chemicals created when plastic burns. The ash is also potentially hazardous and should not be spread on the soil. Plastic should never be burned in the open air. There are recycling options available for many of these products.


To be continued

Indonesia is the second biggest plastic producer in the world, only “beaten” by China. So this is a huge topic!

We will continue this series with articles about plastic in the oceans, the waste system in Yogya, waste banks/ bank sampah, ecobricks and other creative solutions to the waste problem, as well as some suggestions of what each of us can to in the short or long term to contribute to the reduction and recycling of waste. If you have ideas regarding these topics that you want to share, or are interested in a collaboration with SEMAR, please contact us. We are also keen to know where eco-friendly alternatives are available in Yogya!

Upcycling sebagai sebuah sikap

SEMAR: Sehat-Ekonomis-Manfaat-Artistik-Ramah lingkungan

Ketika saya harus mencari organisasi berwawasan lingkungan yang ada di daeraah tersebut (Jogjakarta), teman menyarankan saya untuk mengunjungi kota Salatiga. Setelah melewati perjalanan dengan pemandangan a;am yang memukau di kaki Gunung Merbabu, saya bertemu dengan salah seorang anggota SAPU dan Komunitas TUK. Di sebuah rumah joglo, saya disambut oleh Rudy dan Ayok, dua orang penggagas dan sekaligus anggota TUK. Saya tidak bisa menahan diri untuk tidak melihat-lihat ruang pamer benda-benda upcycle buatan mereka, dimana perhiasan, tas, hingga barang-barang upcycle yang lainnya di pajang.

Produk upcycle dari SAPU

Di halaman belakang, saya melihat dan mendengar orang-orang bekerja dengan mesin jahit, mesin jahit khusus yang sudah di modifikasi oleh Ayok. Disini, SAPU membuat barang-barang yang berseni dan bermakna, dari ban bekas baik ban dalam atau ban luar, drum bekas, botol bekas, majalah bekas, juga barang bekas lainnya agar bisa menjadi barang yang lebih berguna dan berseni.

Menggabungkan berbagi usaha untuk menciptakan perubahan

‘SAPU?’ saya bertanya dengan heran, bukankah itu adalah alat pembersih lantai dalam Bahasa Jawa.

‘Ya” Ayok menjawab sambil tertawa, dibuat dari banyak batang lidi yang diikat secara bersama-sama. Sama seperti halnya sapu, SAPU merupakan gabungan dari banyak orang yang terdiri atas ilmuwan, aktivis, seniman, musisi, teman, perancang, penjahit, pengumpul sampah, penulis, penggrajin, baik darii Jawa Tengah, Indonesia, dan Australia, mereka bersepakat untuk kreatif dan produktif, dan lepas dari itu semua, mereka ingin membuat perubahan.

Mereka memasarkan produk buatan mereka dengan cara yang etis baik secara profesional maupun sosial. Empatbelas pekerja mereka semua mendapatkan upah yang layak, asuransi, bonus, juga jam kerja yang jelas.

Ayok, prancang desain di SAPU. Lihat lampu upcyle di atas

Menginspirasi baik didalam maupun di luar negeri

Selama ini banyak produknya diperjual belikan di Bali dan di luar negeri, hanya kisaran 25% nya saja yang dibeli oleh orang Indonesia. Ini bukan masalah harga jualnya, karena barang-barang yang berjenis  sama di pusat perbelanjaan kadang malahan lebih mahal dari barang upcycle, tetapi karena barang upcycle ‘kurang’ menarik. Namun demikian, baik produk maupun gagasan mereka tersebut cukup mendapatkan perhatian dan dukungan dari masayarakat luas.

Tujuan kami tidak hanya melulu membuat produk yang menarik dan berseni, tetapi membuat dan mengajak orang berpikir tentang hidup yang berkelanjutan dan tentang bagaimana mereka peduli dengan lingkungan mereka sendiri, begitu pendapat mereka.

Kami berharap, akan menginspirasi munculnya perubahan lingkungan ke arah yang lebih baik, dengan mengubah peilaku dan sikap hidup orang-orang yang datang ke SAPU upcycle.

Berawal dari kegiatan bersih sungai

Kebanyakan bahan baku di SAPU sekarang ini, kami beli dari bank sampah. Tetapi pada mulanya, kegiatan ini muncul karena ada acara bersih sungai pada tahun 2006. Seorang kawan yang kebetulan seniman, membuat dompet dari sampah plastik yang dikumpulkan. Acara tersebut merupakan bagian dari sebuah acara yang digelar tahunan, yaitu Festival Mata Air. Dengan menggabungan seni dan semangat, kami, seniman, relawan, dan aktivis, bergabung untuk bersama dan sepakat untuk melakukan sesuatu yang berkaitan dengan lingkungan, khususnya untuk konservasi air. Saya sangat yakin, bahwa menumbuhkan ideologi lingkungan dalam diri manusia itu, sama pentingnya dengan menanam pohon itu sendiri, kata Rudy, salah seorang penggagasnya. Maka, selain mengadakan pameran, seminar, workshop, penanaman pohon, mereka juga mengorganisir diadakannya kegiatan bersih sungai dan mata air.

Gagasan terus saja berkembang, banyak energi positif mereka dapatkan demi pemanfaatan barang bekas agar lebih bernilai, dan bukan saja barang bekas, namun juga barang-barang yang bahkan sudah dibuang. Kami melihat banyaknya kesempatan pemanfaatn barang-barang yang kami anggap ‘bekas’, kata Ayok, sebagai perancang sekaligus kapala bagian kreatif di SAPU.  Di tahun 2010, SAPU dan TUK membelahdiri menjadi 2 lembaga, satu berwawasan sosial (non profit) sedang satunya sebagai sebuah usaha(profit), tetapi mereka tetap merupakan suatu kesatuan.

Proses dari dimulainya sebuah perubahan

Berbagai produk upcycle dari SAPU

TUK membuat mainan dari bahan daur ulang, sebagian dibuat bahak bersama anak-anak.  Saya kaget saat mendengar bahwa mereka bahkan pernah membuat arena bermain anak, yang keseluruhan bahan-bahannya adalah bahan daur ulang, semacam ban bekas baik ban dalam maupun ban luar, dan bahan yang pernah dipergunakan sebelumnya(bekas). Keadaan semacam ini, saat sesuatu yang baru diciptakan melalui sesuatu yang pernah digunakan sebelumnya, umumnya akan dipergunakan sebagai momen untuk berbagi ilmu tentang lingkunganbaik secara lokal maupun global.“ Kita berkampanye untuk mengajak orang mulai untuk berpikir! Disinilah proses perubahan itu terjadi,‘Rudy menegaskan.

Lebihlanjut, workshop di berbagai sekolah(bahkan juga di Australia) atau untuk berbagai agen perjalanan yang berwawasan ekologis seperti Via-via, merupakan kesempatan yang bagus untuk mendapatkan pemasukan yang jelas. Semua anggota TUK bekerja secara sukarela, tetapi uang jelas mereka butuhkan untuk pembiayaan operasional. Kebanyakan kegiatan dimana TUK terlibat dibiayai oleh beberapa teman, yang akan membantu semampu mereka saat diperlukan.

Proyek yang sedang berjalan adalah membuat beberapa bank sampah, pepustakaan di Salatiga, dan percobaan membuat rumah dengan bahan upcycle agar bisa menjadi contoh sekaligus menginspirasi pihak lain. Sebagai tambahan, sebuah tempat baru sedang di buka di Ubud, Bali, tempat dimana akan menjadi lokasi  Festival Mata Air tahun depan.

Semua ada di tangan kita

Saya katakan, bahwa saya sungguh terkesan dengan segala sesuatu yang sudah dicapai, dan betapa saya tergugah dengan suasana yang istimewa dan sedikit berbeda, yang kita bisa rasakan sesaat kita memasuki bangunannya. Dan menurut saya, tetap saja, merupakan tugas pemerintah setempat untuk mendukung segala upaya pengurangan sampah dan memastikan masyarakat mampu mengelola sampah mereka.

Bengkel kerja SAPU yang bertembat dihalaman belakang

“Pemerintah setempat biasanya membantu kegiatan kami,”Rudy sedikit kesal. Tetapi biasanya mereka tidak tertarik untuk terlibat atau setidaknya mengalokasikan separuh saja pembiayaan mereka untuk workshop, mereka meminta kita melakukan untuk mereka. Kamu tidak bisa mengandalkan mereka(pemerintah) untuk urusan ketahanan lingkungan. Kita bahakan tidak pernah punya pesta untuk lingkungan di negara ini. Ini bercanda!!”

Jadi, sepenuhnya ada ditangan kita untuk membagikan ini pada dunia. Silahkan bagi artikel ini jika kamu berkenan. Kita akan segera mengunggah beberapa seri blog yang berkaitan dengan plastik dan sampah. Jadi jangan sampai melewatkannya yaa..

Upcycling as a statement

Meet SAPU and TUK and be inspired of their approach to deal with waste…


SEMARSickeningEndlessMakes moneyArtificialReduce 

(…in each edition we try to find some words that are related to the overall topic- this time plastic and waste….)

While I was looking for an environmental organisation in the area, friends recommended that I drive to Salatiga. After a drive through the breathtaking scenery at the foot of Mount Merbabu, I meet members of SAPU and Komunitas TUK. In a traditional Joglo, I am welcomed by Ayok and Rudy, two of the founding members of TUK. I can’t resist checking out their little show room, where upcycled jewellery, bags and accessories are on display.

upcycled products by SAPU

In the backyard, I see and hear people working on sewing machines, which were modified by Ayok. Here, SAPU makes products, produces art and fashions messages from used inner tubes/ tyres, used oil drums, recycled trash, other used objects, plastic bottles, old magazines, second hand clothing and anything that can be turned into something useful and stylish.

Combined efforts to make a difference

“Sapu”, I wonder, “isn’t this a traditional Javanese broom?”

“Exactly”, laughs Ayuk. “It is made from a bundle of coconut sticks tied up together. This effective and strong tool works only by the combination of its single sticks. Likewise, SAPU believes that only in combination can this collective of craftspeople, designers, friends, sewers, trash collectors, artists, musicians, scientists, farmers and writers from Central Java, Indonesia and Australia be creative, productive and, above all, make a difference”.

All of their items are produced and distributed in ethical and socially responsible ways. The 14 employees receive the minimum salary plus transport support and a bonus. They are insured and have fixed working hours.

Ayok, the designer of SAPU. Check out the up cycled lamp on top!

Inspire people- here and abroad

So far, most of the products have been sold to foreigners in Yogya and Bali or abroad. Only 25% are bought by Indonesians. It is not necessarily a matter of the price, as many items that are being sold in malls are more expensive and still bought by many. It is rather that upcycled items are not considered “hip” yet. In addition, neither the products nor the ideas behind them – to conserve nature and reuse material – are widely known and supported.

“Our aims are not confined to the creation of beautiful objects. Through our work, we see the chance to inspire people to live a more sustainable way of life and to care for their own environment. We hope to inspire environmental change by changing the attitudes and behaviour of all those who come into contact with a SAPU product.”

It all started with a river clean up

Most of the material SAPU uses now is purchased from waste sorting (bank sampah) stations. However, it all started in 2006 with material collected at a river clean up. One artist created a wallet out of the plastic waste collected. The clean up was part of a yearly festival, called Festival Mata Air. Through connecting art and activism, the group of environmentally concerned artists and volunteers advocates on issues concerning the environment and especially water conservation. “We believe that to plant an environmental ideology is as important as planting trees itself” says Rudy, one of the founding members. So, in addition to exhibitions, environmental forums, reforestation and workshops, they also organised clean ups of rivers and springs.

This idea developed and more and more energy flew into creating something new out of materials that had already been used and would otherwise be thrown away. “We see possibilities in items which the majority of us would consider to be waste.” says Ayok, the designer and creative head of SAPU. In 2010 SAPU and TUK separated into profit and non-profit sections, but they are still closely interlinked.

The process of change begins

More up cycled products by SAPU

TUK creates toys out of reused material, often with kids themselves. I was surprised to hear that they even created a whole playground from old car tyres, inner tubes and other used materials. Occasions like this, when something new is created out of something old, are typically used to share knowledge about the local and global environment. “Our campaigns aim to make people start thinking! This is where the process of change begins.” states Rudy.

Moreover, workshops at schools (even in Australia) or for the sustainable travel agent Viavia are good opportunities to generate income. All TUK members work voluntarily, but money is still needed to remain operational.. Most of the activities that TUK are involved in are funded by friends that chip in whenever money is needed. Sometimes there is a donor for the yearly environmental art festival “Mata Air”, that reaches out to thousands of people. In addition, a percentage of the funds from what SAPU sells is used to fund TUK’s environmental activities.

Current projects are the setting up of a bank sampah and library in Salatiga and the experiment of creating an (almost) fully self-contained house to set an example and inspire others. Additionally, a new workshop was just opened in Ubud, Bali, where next year’s Festival Mata Air will take place.

SAPUs workshop in the backyard

It remains in our hands

I mention that I am very much impressed with what has been achieved and how inspired I am by the unique and uplifting atmosphere that you can feel when you enter the premises. In my opinion however, it should be a task of the local government to support waste reduction and make sure that people take care of the environment. “The local government occasionally supports our actions” sighs Rudy. But mostly they are not interested or try to put half of the budget allocated for a workshop they asked us to run in their own pockets. “You can’t count on the government when it comes to protecting the environment. We don’t even have a Green Party in this country. It’s a joke!”

So it remains in our hands to spread the word! Please share this article if you like it!

We will have a little series of blogs related to plastic and waste that will be published soon. Stay tuned!