Yuyun Ismawati

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2002
This description of Yuyun Ismawati's work was prepared when Yuyun Ismawati was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002 .


Yuyun Ismawati is developing a viable model of community-based solid waste management that both halts environmental degradation caused by improper practices and provides a practical, replicable plan.

The New Idea

Yuyun sees that there is significant pressure on regional government to outsource public services like waste management. Numerous foreign-owned companies are vying to secure contracts for sanitation and waste management in places like Bali, an international tourist center. Their capital-intensive approaches displace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the informal sector. Yuyun, a first-class innovator and environmental engineer by training, is developing a decentralized, community-based waste management system that brings privatization of public services to small-scale providers. Working in Bali, she has gained the cooperation of large businesses like hotels and restaurants, sanitation workers (including garbage collectors and scavengers), and local governments and communities to actively support environmentally responsible solid waste management. Yuyun is convincing local communities that solid waste is one public resource that should not be outsourced to megacompanies but should be managed practically and efficiently to benefit the local people, businesses, and the tourist industry, while relieving some of the burden from the local government.

The Problem

Solid waste has grown into a major problem in urban areas throughout Indonesia. The public service of waste removal and disposal has until now been urban based, the responsibility of local governments. But over the past 35 years, there has not been any city authority in the country that has properly managed or successfully provided public waste management and sanitation services. Recently, foreign companies have offered their privatized services to overwhelmed regional authorities to provide waste management services. Since there has been little political will to overcome the problem and no effort to coordinate the various stakeholders in communities, regional governments are looking for easy solutions.
There are four main aspects to the problem surrounding waste management. First, basic collection continues to increase the mounting problem. Since Indonesians are not familiar with waste separation, the amount of solid waste disposed from each household or business entity is ever increasing. In terms of volume of solid waste, the area of south Bali produces over 2,000 cubic meters of garbage daily. Hotels and restaurants contribute more than an additional 500 cubic meters of garbage. About two-thirds of this garbage is organic and could be used as livestock feed or compost if separated out. There is no penalty system and no specific mechanism to force individuals or businesses to minimize their waste, not to mention to prevent them from littering. No rules or regulations exist, either on national, regional, or subdistrict levels, that clearly state how the government should deal with solid waste management. People still commonly dispose of waste in rivers or by trying to burn their mixed rubbish.
The second problem is the transfer mechanisms to temporary transfer depots and then to the final disposal site. The transfer process involves numerous large trucks going back and forth at a high frequency through dense urban traffic. According to recent research, the Department of Parks and Sanitation can handle only two-thirds of the garbage collection in the city of Denpasar. In other areas the transport issue stems from the problem that old, open pickups and carts are used for collection and often leave trails of unsavory liquids behind.
Third, land for final disposal sites is limited, and although local governments claim that their final disposal sites are sanitary landfill, in practice they are open dumps. The site itself is usually a major cause of conflict between some groups, either government authorities, communities, or scavenger groups. Moreover, public projects concerning solid waste management and sanitation are prone to corruption. Many grants and loan funds flowing into the public service sectors simply disappear or are ineffectively managed.
The fourth aspect of the problem is the lack of acknowledgment of the informal sector's contribution in solid waste management, namely, the contribution from the scavengers and the collectors at informal transfer depots. These individuals are never acknowledged as stakeholders in urban waste management but rather are considered to be more dangerous than drug dealers. In most neighborhoods in Bali, one can easily spot signs that read "No Entry for Scavengers" perhaps because of fear that they might steal something. Governments, however, are unable to provide the services that these residential areas need.

The Strategy

In 1996 Yuyun and her colleagues at the Wisnu Foundation, an environmental citizen sector organization in Bali, began to offer and implement for a leading tourism area a waste management service focused on solid waste from large hotels. Their plan differed significantly from the existing system but included many principles found in internationally accepted environmental regulations. For example, Yuyun's plan included ideas like encouraging polluters to pay, using local service providers instead of foreign investors, minimizing the volume of solid waste through recycling or onsite reuse, and adopting a willingness to separate waste from the source.
These ideas became the operating principle of a solid waste transportation and management service company called PT Jimbaran Lestari in the resort area of Jimbaran. There, Yuyun assisted garbage collectors working with large hotels in the area to expand into a new field as solid waste management service providers. She began by thoroughly surveying the waste management practices of the various hotels. She photographed the refrigerated rooms in which garbage collectors were forced to squat to sort through heaps of garbage from four to five a.m. or five to six p.m. and documented how much collectors had to pay for garbage they took from the hotels. In Bali many trash collectors are also pig farmers who are so eager to get leftover foods from the hotels and restaurants that they are willing to pay for it. Previously, after collectors took what they wanted, the residual inorganic and unusable wastes were left to sit or were carted away and dumped in empty plots near their homes.
Yuyun showed her photos to general managers at four- and five-star hotels. They often had no concept of where the trash ended up. She used this documentation to persuade the managers to sign up with the new company and pay for a better system or risk exposure in the media. Once a hotel agreed to pay for the services, Yuyun and her crew would train the hotel staff and provide separation bins so much of the sorting of wet and dry waste could be done on-site. A system of incentives and disincentives also encouraged staff involvement.
The system Yuyun introduced offered the garbage collectors new skills and career options. They learned how to use practical management through contracts with the hotels and were instructed on making detailed reports on the volume and composition of the waste, creating monthly financial reports, using computers, and managing employees.
For the local government, the system was so new that officials did not even know how to describe or categorize it. When Yuyun first submitted the permit application for the company, the government office had no category for such a business. She made numerous presentations and finally convinced the district leaders to add to their list for business permits "Service in Recycling and Composting." The company, PT Jimbaran Lestari, is owned by shareholders who are the garbage collectors themselves. They are considered to be the first to develop a waste transport-and-separation company in Bali, and perhaps in the entire country. When they began their operation, the staff was paid in buckets of organic waste. Today, PT Jimbaran Lestari is a self-sustaining organization that employs 50 full-time salaried workers and operates eight trucks servicing 12 large hotels. It has become a model waste management system and groups of school children, regional government officials, and ecotourists visit to learn from it.
For residential areas in other parts of Bali, Yuyun has applied a regional approach, using the same principles. She has established programs in the residential areas of Monang-maning (Denpasar), Seminyak, Tanjung Benoa, and Ubud. In those areas, Yuyun and her staff at Bali Fokus, the citizen sector organization she established in 2000, began to approach active community groups. Any stakeholder in the area who showed a sincere interest in waste management was invited to join meetings to create action plans about improving local waste management. After a plan is agreed upon, Bali Fokus facilitates a joint meeting of representatives of the local government, village authorities, traditional authorities, business groups, and community representatives to implement the action plan.
Efforts to change behavior regarding solid waste management cannot be separated from the availability of an enabling system. Yuyun has offered models for such systems while targeting partners within local communities and businesses who are willing to cooperate to solve their garbage problems. These partners are then able to influence local government and traditional authorities to create and enforce regulations leading to policy changes in urban waste management.
Another initiative spearheaded by Yuyun is a Hotel Environmental Rating System. This is a kind of "eco-labeling" for hotels with a clear set of criteria to rate how environmentally responsible the hotels are. For this program, Yuyun worked with the local government to develop the criteria and format. Thirty-two major hotels have taken part in the program. Yuyun and her staff conduct site visits on a regular basis and then meet with the hotels to discuss problems and hold trainings to help them improve their ratings. This is a service for which participating hotels are willing to pay, adding to the operational income of Bali Fokus. Travel agents work with Yuyun and use these hotel eco-ratings as selling points to certain environmentally conscious groups and individuals, thus helping to socialize the idea and reward hotels for taking part.Yuyun and her staff at Bali Fokus also support a portion of the organization's operations through a successful paper pick-up program and the sale of shredded paper for packing and recycled paper for handicrafts and hotel stationery. Sales of paper average 10 million rupiah per month, about half of which is profit.
Starting in February 2002, Yuyun created a community-based waste management network in Bali, starting from the public awareness component, improvement of infrastructure using the partnership pattern, and policy reviews. The idea is to support replication of success stories in Bali or other areas. Yuyun plans to expand and establish a similar network on a national scale by keeping in touch with the participants from environmental conferences. Six cities have already committed to getting involved. Yuyun also intends to contact international citizen-based organizations or others involved in waste issues to share thoughts and experiences on urban waste management.

The Person

Born in Bandung, Yuyun moved a lot with her family as her father was high-ranking military. She attended ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology) and majored in environmental engineering. As a student she was active in student organizations including the environmental club Yayasan Indonesia Hijau (Green Indonesia Foundation) and the Community Outreach Program. To her strict father's chagrin, Yuyun seized the opportunity while still a student to travel and do research in various remote locations, meeting her future husband on one such expedition.
Upon graduating, Yuyun worked for several years as an environmental consultant for private companies in Jakarta but found herself frustrated by the discrepancies between theory and practice. Often what was built for a project did not match what she had designed, sometimes because of corrupt practices among contractors and team leaders (who had often been her classmates.) Yuyun felt that her ITB education prepared her to be a designer and engineer but did not prepare her for her current situation. Her lecturers had returned with Ph.D.s from the United States and Europe and taught from textbooks they brought back with them–all far removed from the Indonesian context.
In order to change this and try to demystify engineering, Yuyun became a lecturer at Trisakti University in Jakarta while continuing to work as a freelance consultant. After moving to Bali in 1996, she volunteered at the Wisnu Foundation, and in a short time she became the executive director. She began to implement her ideas for change in solid waste management while at Wisnu and founded her own organization, Bali Fokus, in 2000. Although she says that university training for engineers was too rigid for her to change as a lecturer, she feels that she is now making inroads by regularly having students apprentice with Bali Fokus. Yuyun is a LEAD (Leadership on Environment and Development) Fellow elected in 1999 and is active in a number of citizen sector forums.