Our Care for Waste Workers

Contributed by Iwut Wulandari, YPBB – Indonesia

Who makes sure your home’s waste is managed, so you don’t have to litter or burn trash that can produce toxic gases that are harmful to you?

It is the waste workers. They make sure that our waste is collected and, even better, quite a lot of them also compost and recycle!

Most of the waste workers in Indonesia are informal workers. Many of them are waste collectors working for minimum daily wage. Quite a lot of them work in coordination with community leaders, collecting waste from households and bringing them to transfer stations (TPS). Also, many informal waste workers work in the transfer stations to collect waste that can be recycled or composted.

Their work is difficult, often posing risks to their health and safety. In Bandung and in the whole of Indonesia, collectors are not used to wearing personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. Some waste workers that work more formally in a company also often work with minimum wage and bad working conditions.

Care for Waste Workers

There are many stories of waste collection incidents that led to injury among the workers. Mr. Hermawan, a waste management officer in the Sukaluyu Village area, and Mr. Udung, a waste collector in the Neglasari Urban Village in Bandung City, both died because of infected wounds caused by skewers from mixed waste. Mr. Udin had previous skewer-related injuries before, but managed to seek medical attention from puskesmas (community health centers). In many cases, however, collectors often avoid medical treatment because of healthcare costs. Likewise, they do not receive adequate healthcare support from the local government.

To commemorate National Waste Awareness Day (Hari Peduli Sampah Nasional), YPBB, in collaboration with the Bandung City Environmental Agency (Lingkungan Hidup dan Kebersihan / DLHK) and the public health service units of Cijerah, Puter and Neglasari, organized a free health check-ups for waste workers. The medical check-ups were done on 20-22 February 2020 in Gempolsari, Sadang Serang and Sukaluyu villages, benefiting hundreds of waste collectors in the city. YPBB also issued a statement marking the National Waste Awareness Day, reminding people about the welfare and safety of waste workers, as well as the need to properly sort waste at the household level to minimize health risks to collectors and reduce landfill-bound waste.

Zero Waste and COVID-19

As cities have implemented lockdowns and encouraged residents to stay at home, frontliners such as waste workers continued to provide service to communities. Without them, garbage will pile up in curbsides and streets. Waste workers remain at risk to COVID-19 infection, especially for those that are not using masks and gloves.

YPBB organized a fundraising drive to provide necessary PPEs and relief kits for waste workers in Bandung, Bandung District, and Cimahi.

“We continue to work to manage your waste.” A thank you note from a garbage worker who just received his personal protective equipment.

The PPE donation program for the waste collectors was divided into 2 phases. For the first phase, 340 waste collectors in 3 cities of the Zero Waste Cities program (Bandung, Cimahi, and Bandung District) were given PPE donations. In the second phase, PPE donations were given to composting officers and waste collectors in the kelurahan (village) and RW (Rukun Warga/small village) under the guidance of DLHK. Although recipients of the 2nd phase are waste collectors outside the Zero Waste Cities project, the DLHK apply Zero Waste cities approach in those areas.

The donation drive helped increase public awareness in the midst of this pandemic, especially for the waste management sector. In addition to their heavy work, there is a great risk lurking in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PPE package includes cloth masks, rubber gloves, liquid hand washing soap, hand sanitizers, cloth bags, and posters related to safety measures for waste workers.

The Personal Protective Equipment package for waste worker.

To sustain the  efforts to make safer working conditions for the waste workers, YPBB is working with the city governments such as, Bandung City and Cimahi City, to enact and implement local regulation on waste management. If properly implemented, local governments can now allocate PPEs and additional resources for waste workers in the future. Not only that, local government will have responsibilities to allocate sufficient fund to formalize and provide good working condition for waste workers and the citizen will provide their waste in segregated and safe manner. “For this reason, local governments need to be supported so that the burden of transportation and final processing costs does not become burdensome. And even better if there is a financial assistance scheme for the transition process because this transition process requires considerable investment,” said David Sutasurya, Executive Director of YPBB.

Other support for waste workers was also provided through the GAIA Emergency Solidarity Fund that aims to raise funds to support  waste workers and waste pickers in several countries in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, you may visit https://www.no-burn.org/contribute.

Read in Bahasa: Kepedulian Kami untuk Petugas Sampah


GAIA is grateful for the contributions from YPBB and Bandung City. This feature is made possible through the Zero Waste Cities project — an initiative coordinated by GAIA Asia Pacific and funded by the Plastic Solutions Fund (PSF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The views expressed in this feature do not necessarily reflect that of its funders.