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Indonesia forum

Cleaning up Indonesia's national parks

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/5/2016 at 07:48 admin

From this week's soapbox. Don't get our weekly newsletter? Sign up here.

I'm just back from climbing one of the tallest volcanoes in Indonesia, spectacular Gunung Rinjani. We'll have a full write-up on Travelfish this week (in the meantime you can see some happy snaps here).

The trek took three friends and I three days. We started in Sembalun Lawang and finishing in Senaru, with one night spend camping on the crater rim, and the other lakeside within the crater. It is a truly breathtaking volcano.

It is also covered in mountains of rubbish.

We climbed the peak over a four-day Indonesian holiday weekend, so trekking traffic was particularly heavy; some 900 trekkers (plus porters and guides) signed into the park the day before we started our climb. Perhaps the trash was unusually heavy because of this, but, well, that's no excuse really.

You know when you're nearing a campsite because you can smell it. Many trekkers, rather than dig a hole to do their business, just wander off a little away from the camp and deposit their turds (sometimes neatly positioned atop toilet paper!) beside the trail. There are no camp-provided toilets. Trekking groups generally dig a hole and position a "toilet tent" atop it for privacy, but individual trekkers need to dig their own. For quite a few, that is too much to ask.

Then there is the non-human waste. The pop-mie containers, noodle wrappers, biscuit packets, empty gas canisters, water bottles, toilet paper and so on. Some crews lug all this out. Others don't. We watched as the crew beside us collected all their rubbish into a large black plastic bag then left it by a rock ledge. Five minutes later monkeys ran in and tore it apart.

According to our guide, a clean-up crew goes through the park once a week. But when you're letting 900 people in on a single day, and many of those people have no qualms about throwing their trash wherever, then a crew once a week is a bit of a Bandaid on a machete gash type solution.

Foreigners are charged 150,000 rupiah to enter the park; Indonesians are charged 5,000 rupiah.

Simple problems often have simple solutions.

* Send a five-person clean-up crew daily. Depending on who you talk to, porters are paid 150,000 to 200,000 rupiah per day. To pay a clean-up crew is hardly a major expense at a cash cow park like Rinjani.

* Trekking companies should be forced to send an extra porter with each group that treks in, with the sole responsibility of collecting trash. If trekking companies want to pass the cost of that onto the trekker, so be it.

* Trekking companies must lug all their rubbish out. All of it. Leave nothing behind.

* Set up larger scale, centralised toilets at each camping point. From sheds over a trench to fancy self-composting toilets, there are plenty of solutions available that are used at other national parks outside Indonesia.

* Trekking companies (and individuals) should be encouraged to pack fruit rather than biscuits and use refillable water containers rather than plastic disposable bottles.

* Individuals leaving the park carrying no trash should be fined double the foreigner admission fee, per person. This can be explained to all trekkers when they enter. Supply them with branded (recyclable) bags upon entry.

If you plan on climbing Rinjani as an individual, when you're canvassing various companies, be sure to ask them what their approach to waste in the park is.

The above may not eradicate all trash from the park, but it would be a good start.

Do you have ideas on how trash in the national parks (and anywhere else for that matter), could be dealt with?

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by SBE on 10/5/2016 at 10:18

Simple problems often have simple solutions.

So what happens to all these bags of trash once they've been carried down the mountain? New gigantic trash mound decorating the NP entrance or will people throw them out of bus and car windows along the road on the way home?

I disagree that it's a simple problem or that there are cheap and simple solutions... how far away from Rinjani NP is the nearest garbage processing facility?

#2 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,055

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/5/2016 at 15:44 admin

Sorry, wasn't trying to suggest that reinventing Indonesia's nationwide approach to waste management was a simple problem - it isn't. It is a massive and complex problem that will sadly probably take generations to address, just as it did in my home country (which got serious on the issue in the 70s).

What I am talking about is getting this waste off the mountain, and I think, as I outlined above, that is a relatively strsightforward issue. If this means mountains of trash at the park entrance, well so be it. At least as it piles up by the roadside it is more straightforward to deal with it.

Perhaps steps like what I am suggesting could be used as the baby steps of a wider waste education programme through the country - the majority of trekkers on the peak were young and these people can drive the changes needed.

Do you have other ideas?


#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by gecktrek on 10/5/2016 at 16:39

it's a bit like the old "how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb..?"
perhaps the problem is best tackled with a political solution, lobbying tourism office in jakarta, and the local bupati who may or may not, focus some local attention to solving the problem?

#4 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 178

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/5/2016 at 17:49 admin

Hi Gecktrek,

Yes agree - though the weekly clean-ups are already set up, apparently via the Rinjani Trekking Management Board, which itself is an interesting and award-winning set-up as, at least in theory, they bring together a few of the different stakeholders wrapped up in the park. You can read more about the RTMB here. There is plenty more to be done though.

Thinking more about SBE's point above, two islands I visited on my Sumbawa trip came to mind -- Gili Bedil and Gili Pudu. Both are tiny and both see a lot of domestic visitors daily, especially on weekends.

The difference is one (Bedil) has had an elderly couple living on it for 20+ years. They were initially charged with protecting the island's reefs from dynamite and cyanide fishing, but they also clean the beach and, while there was a little trash on the beach, it was, by Indonesian standards, in pretty good shape. They apparently burnt combustible trash and the rest was ferried back to the mainland in the day tripper boats -- no idea what happened to it then.

Gili Pudu on the other hand is now uninhabited (apparently a foreigner lived there for many years, but just the shell of his house remains now) and the trash situation there was appalling -- really out of hand.

Now I'm not suggesting that Rinjani find couples to go live at each campsite, but where there is the will, there is the way, and getting it off the peak (or off the beach) to somewhere where it is more practical to deal with, seems like a good start.

#5 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/5/2016 at 17:50 admin

Oh and, before I forget, last of of Sumba coverage goes up this week -- I remember you were asking after it gecktrek :-)

#6 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by gecktrek on 10/5/2016 at 23:29

thanks somtam, have already perused the sumba additions, sally has done an excellent job... it will be interesting to see how many people choose to visit sumba now!

#7 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 178

Posted by exacto on 11/5/2016 at 00:03

@ somtam

your comment about how Australia only got serious about roadside litter/rubbish/trash in the 1970's reminds me of exactly the same thing in the United States. it took a huge media campaign and lots of propaganda in the schools to teach a new generation to stop throwing trash just anywhere. it was a problem in pristine places like our national parks back then too. the parks started charging a small deposit on soda cans and bottles, etc., and that significantly reduced the amount of roadside rubbish almost overnight.

you are right, it is difficult to watch these beautiful areas get damaged by overuse and carelessness. Indonesia will eventually figure it out and get it right, but as you suggest, it may take another generation or two. that combination of government action (through economic incentives or the types of requirements you mention above) and increasing awareness from locals that they are (quite literally) pooping in their own rice bowls, will eventually solve the problem.

#8 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,840

Posted by SBE on 11/5/2016 at 07:59

Can't think of any easy solutions but I don't see why the rubbish has to be taken off the mountain. If it's going to be burnt anyway, you might as well burn it in situ rather than asking porters to lug it to the summit and then all the way back down again. They could use designated burning spots located a bit off the main track. Tourists will no doubt complain about the smoke, just as they complain about the smoke when resorts on islands burn their trash rather than throwing it straight into the sea, but in places where there's no organized garbage collection service I can't think of any other way to deal with trash.

Recyclable branded rubbish bags aren't much use if there are no recycling facilities... better to hand out biodegradable trash bags that are safer to burn and will decompose if left lying about.

Trying to limit the amount of plastic packaging people carry is nice in theory but will be very hard to implement in a country where the standard travel meal is a either a plastic container of dehydrated pot noodles or a polystyrene box containing nasi/mie goreng... usually served with a throwaway plastic cup of water and throwaway plastic cutlery. Coffee and tea is also served in plastic cups, saves washing up in places where there's no water supply. Fresh fruit is rarely available in remote areas because it's difficult to transport and spoils more easily than biscuits. Sounds like it's already a tough trek already, and what you're suggesting would involve carrying watermelons and pineapples instead of lightweight packets of biscuits up that volcano. Banning plastic bottles would mean porters have to carry huge water containers to do the refills and they'd need to provide gallons of water for washing up as well if throwaway food packaging wasn't allowed.

Your suggestions are great from an ecological standpoint but how would you implement them in practice? The porters already have to carry people's rucksacks and tents. Would you have been able to carry a 20L water container and fresh fruit up on top of what you were already carrying?

Hmm...using mules or pack horses might work but that would probably aggravate the turd problem.

#9 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,055

Posted by somtam2000 on 11/5/2016 at 08:47 admin

If the trash is carried onto the mountain it can be carried off as well :-)

I agree some stuff can be burnt off (or disposed of in cages for reuse in campfires etc) by this I mean stuff like cardboard boxes and other paper packaging that the porters lug up. But other stuff, like noodle wrappers, styrofoam and so on, which doesn't actually burn well in a campfire, should be lugged out.

Trekking crews tend to use melamine plates, cups etc and, unlike on the beaches there are none of those ghastly single dose Aqua water cups, but there are loads of the 1+ litre Aqua bottles left laying around. They also already lug up pineapples and bananas (I didn't see any watermelons tho!) so I'd say more of that and less biscuits. Coffee and tea, yeah plenty of packaging there, but again that can be either lugged out or (at worst) burned.

Some crews lug up bombie LPG bottles (others use scavenged dead wood) but as far as water is concerned, the porters lug it in so is there any difference between a porter carrying 10 1.25 litre bottles or larger (and refillable) bottles and the guests are required to buy (or use their own preexisting) metal container.

I carried by own rucksack (sadly!) but the groups generally work on one porter per guest. So our group or four people had four porters plus a guide. Water and fruit wouldn't be being carried as well as the other stuff (biscuits etc) but rather instead of. If they need an extra porter to carry it, then so be it and charge the pax for it.

Had I been a solo traveller, not using a trekking org, would I have been able to lug up all my gear + tent + bag + water for the entire trip? No way. That's why I'd need to hire a porter (or two).

Totally aside from the waste side of things, why the trekking don't store stuff at each campsite (gas, tents, sleeping bags etc) is totally beyond me.

#10 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by mooball on 11/5/2016 at 10:10 TF writer

Burning all your rubbish on the mountainside is probably only a marginally better idea than say feeding the waste to the monkeys.

Why is it such a big deal to carry the waste back off the mountain? Because it might pile up at the park entrance? Well make sure a garbage truck comes and picks it up from the park entrance. The solution actually is very simple.

There's often an excuse in Indonesia that everything is too hard because there's currently no system in place to handle it. Happens with the rubbish argument in Bali all the time. The Indonesian people are not stupid. They understand the problem and know how to fix it. It's just that there are other factors at play that make it poorly run.

Make people take rubbish off the mountain. Make sure it is placed at a designated spot at the entrance to the park. Make sure a garbage truck picks up the rubbish daily and takes it to the landfill like they would anywhere else in the world. Simple.

#11 mooball has been a member since 19/6/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 439

Posted by YogaSearcherBali on 12/5/2016 at 21:25

The rubbish issue of the Rinjani National Park, it's not the only problem though. I have been climb other mountain in Java (Gede Mountain, Bromo Mountain, Semeru Mountain) and Sumatra (Kerinci Mountain). i can see so clear this just because the visitors "problem" who didn't care nothing around i bet.

i met so many climber with had no attitude. Mostly the reason the climb the mountain, they said they love the nature, at the same time they don't realize their try to destroy nature by throwing rubbish everywhere. The only can make it "low" this rubbish issue, like MOONBALL said "burning all the rubbish" and "make sure the garbage truck comes to pick the rubbish out from the park enterance. it's simple.

Based on what i saw from other National Park , The Rinjani National Park Management should be take this seriously about "rubbish" issue. It's simple all the visitors/climber should be bring back the rubbish "the rules" when they are out with empty hand, they should pay penalty like 20 thousand rupiah to support the management to do monthly re-cleaning stuff. i believe the mountain will be free from the "rubbish" issue.

#12 YogaSearcherBali has been a member since 25/2/2016. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 71

Posted by SBE on 13/5/2016 at 02:23

i met so many climber with had no attitude. Mostly the reason the climb the mountain, they said they love the nature, at the same time they don't realize their try to destroy nature by throwing rubbish everywhere.

Perhaps what they really meant was that they love having "nature" as a nice background for their selfies on Facebook?

If the trash is carried onto the mountain it can be carried off as well

Good point. So why not weigh all the bags before people set off and impose hefty fines (say double the cost of a porter) if they come back light. Trekkers wouldn't just have to bring their own trash back, they'd also have to help clean up the stuff other people have left lying around. This might have the added benefit of discouraging people who don't actually "love the nature" from climbing the mountain. The root cause of the problem is too many tourists, like on Everest.

PS. I originally included your smiley when I C&Ped your quote Somtam...it comes up HUGE on the preview and can't be deleted with a right click in preview... so I had to redo my post in case the edit button still isn't fixed.

#13 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,055

Posted by somtam2000 on 13/5/2016 at 03:03 admin

I'm working on the edit button now SBE - have been all day - apols is still isn't working for you.

Though, I should note, I did bold the "still" with the edit button, so it is almost done.

#14 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

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