Bambang Suwerda

Ashoka Fellow
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Fellow Since 2010
This description of Bambang Suwerda's work was prepared when Bambang Suwerda was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010 .


Combining saving mechanisms with waste segregation, Bambang Suwerda is using economic incentives to introduce waste management across Indonesia. The ensuing waste separation practices among households create sustainable revenues for recycling businesses.

The New Idea

Bambang is working with communities to establish “waste banks” that serve as community-based recovery facilities. Waste banks collect materials from clients and resell them to the appropriate buyers. Moreover, the revenue is added to the client’s “waste bank savings account,” thus creating an economic incentive for individuals and households to collect and recycle waste. In addition to reselling materials, many waste banks also operate as recycling business units, in which they convert recyclables and sell them as usable products (e.g. conversion of plastic packaging waste into handicrafts).

Bambang’s efforts have not only reduced the waste stream that is dumped into garbage disposal sites, but has also eliminated illegal dumping and created additional job opportunities. In an effort to create generational change and alter mindsets, Bambang targets young people and asks parents to register their waste banks accounts in their child’s name. He is also working with schools to increase youth participation by integrating waste management practices among students at an early age. As success of Bambang’s Gemah Ripah Waste Bank model has grown, the Ministry of Environment in Indonesia has adopted and replicated the model nationwide. Bambang is focusing on standardizing the requirements and procedures for operating waste banks and has created the Waste Bank National Training Center. The organization is expected to ensure the quality of his model, create an opportunity for collective marketing, serve as a training module that covers important topics such as exploring the business behind composting, as well as setting standards around waste collection.

The Problem

Rapid urbanization, population growth, and consumption changes have all contributed to an excessive generation of urban solid waste. City residents suffer from the consequences in a variety of ways: degradation of health and sanitation, deterioration of their physical environment, and the long-term alteration of environmental mindsets. The landslide in Bandung city in 2010 tragically killed 143 people, damaged 26 hectares of land, and cost the city millions of dollars in rehabilitation measures; underscoring the gravity of Indonesia’s waste management problems.

Both local governments and environmental groups have made numerous unsuccessful attempts to improve Indonesia’s waste management practices. In 2008, for example, the Indonesian government passed Law No 18/2008 on Waste Management, which established a legal foundation for waste separation and community involvement in waste management, while also enabling the prohibition of open dumping. Implementation and expansion of the law, however, has been rudimentary and often nonexistent.

While environmental campaigns have increased awareness, concrete actions have yet to be seen. Only a small minority—mostly environmentalists—of households actually separate waste materials and recycle. In the few instances when citizens do recycle, the municipality is so fractured that the segregated materials are often remixed and transferred to the original dumping sites upon collection, thus vitiating any attempts to effectively manage waste. Informal material recovery facilities and recycling businesses also exist across Indonesia, but they are often unsustainable and too poorly organized to have systemic impact.

The Strategy

Bambang’s establishment of waste banks to act as intermediaries between household waste producers and waste buyers or recyclers has been very successful. First, individual households separate between organic, inorganic, and residual waste. Tellers then receive and weigh waste deposits from individual clients. They further record each transaction as a quantitative value in the client’s account book, which is later converted to a monetary value, once the waste is priced and resold. These accounts therefore serve as saving mechanisms for households. Bambang’s system of waste management embeds professionalism and offers economic incentives, as well as the physical infrastructure necessary to foster sustainable waste separation practices. Using public education as a tool, Bambang advocates a number of stakeholder groups to drive the importance of waste management and separation.

Bambang’s waste banks are also altering public perception and behavior in regard to waste management. This, along with the absence of a physical and legal infrastructure, presents the most significant challenges. He began by increasing awareness about the relationship between improper waste handling and common household problems, such as water clogs, floods, air pollution, and the high incidence of diseases, such as dengue fever, diarrhea, and respiratory infection. At the same time, he introduced incentive mechanisms to further motivate adults and children.

Starting with twelve neighborhoods in Badegan, Bambang scouted social gatherings and youth activities to recruit a team of core staff members, which included a director, bookkeeper, and teller. Together, these staff members learn practices necessary to manage a waste bank, such as opening hours, staff shifting, service mechanisms, and waste buyer coordination mechanisms. The waste banks now serve both local individual and institutional clients, while also collecting waste from neighborhoods.

As awareness about waste management has increased and separation practices have improved, Bambang’s local recycling business has begun to thrive. The local community established a recycling business for stereo foam and plastic packaging, which generates revenue and absorbs waste feed from the bank. As the amount of illegal dumping diminishes, waste pickers are consequently either becoming waste buyers or even integrating into the waste banks, where they are turning into clients or transporters.

The waste banks have thus far reduced 30 to 40 percent of the plastic generated across the district. Bambang has directly facilitated the replication of waste banks across ten other locations, including schools and campuses. Perhaps surprisingly, most waste banks are growing increasingly responsible of other waste materials as well, such as organic and miscellaneous residuals and hazardous waste. Bambang has also introduced biopores and modified “jungangans,” modified waste boxes converted into compost. He is cooperating with the local government to collect hazardous waste.

To refine the waste bank model, Bambang established a research and development center, the Public Health Workshop, which is registered as a community group under the village governance structure. Through the workshop, the community researches and tests technology to improve public health conditions. Knowing that waste is interrelated to other aspects of environmental sanitation, Bambang hopes to expand his waste management services to include water, disease vectors, and education. Bambang has even introduced sand filters and chlorine diffusers to treat well water, which has generated revenue and increased demand.

Bambang intends to replicate the Public Health Workshop model in every village. Using the appropriate technology as the main products, he has marketed the workshop as a public health promotion and income-generating unit. For example, Bambang is supporting artisans to create products from waste for sale. He is managing a forum at the national level and also facilitates an annual meeting of waste banks, of which there are already 200, that set standards for establishing future waste banks, such as waste collection, staffing, organizational structure, and construction of waste bank facilities. In the future, as all of Bambang’s efforts provide the infrastructure and spread awareness among various levels of society, he will further explore the business around composting and how he can better aid the government (separate from his waste bank model) to improve services to handle all waste that cannot be recycled.

The Person

Bambang was born in a modest village family in 1969. Raised by a retired civil servant and a farmer, he was one of nine siblings. As a child he was active in various youth organizations and initiated a number of community initiatives, such as tree planting programs and sport tournaments.

After graduating from high school, Bambang studied environmental health and sanitation. When Yogyakarta was devastated by an earthquake in 2007, Bambang helped initiate a community-based pump-free clean water distribution and waste management system in Gandok Kadilobo, Purwobinangun Village, Pakem subdistrict, and Sleman District. Later he co-developed the site, Environmental Sanitation Tourism Village. Seeing a community lecturer always eager to apply his knowledge, local community members elected Bambang as a village representative.

Concerned by the sanitation problems in his own neighborhood, Bambang gathered relatives and neighbors to address local waste issues. However, he quickly noticed the stark contrasts between the operational abilities and professionalism within the banking and waste sectors. He therefore combined the image and service of the banking sector to improve the waste management sector. In the long-term, Bambang envisions waste banks as integrated in both urban and rural settings—a process that he believes will create jobs and change the national waste management system.