Indonesia Expat

Living Greener in Indonesia

Sometimes I think that the only way I can live as an environmentally-conscious member of society is to hide away under a rock and reject the advances of modern civilisation. Of course, this isn’t realistic but the issue seems so large that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. When I first moved into my condo in Jakarta, I was told that our building doesn’t recycle. Apparently, all of the rubbish from our condo will eventually be sorted and magically make its way into a recycling centre somewhere. As an expat it’s difficult to find answers, so I accepted this explanation and carried on with my life of non-recycling. Eventually it ate me up and so I started to make incremental changes to our household.

Trying to live greener in Jakarta takes time and effort. It involves more planning and foresight. However, with the right resources, it is possible. Here are some tips on how to live as a greener family in Indonesia.

Let’s start with our children

Babies can contribute to a lot of waste! Baby items are so short-lived and are mostly marketed towards convenience. One of the biggest trash contributors is disposable diapers. Changing to reusable cotton diapers will save money and reduce landfill. I used disposable nappies but tried to toilet train my children at an early age. With help from my Asian mother (in whose culture it is normal to toilet train from birth), I toilet trained my firstborn at nine months of age.

Also, with influence from my mother, I cleaned my baby’s bottom directly under running water, or wiped with a cotton towel, instead of constantly using wet wipes. As my children got older, I found the bidets on toilets to be useful also. Of course, these cleaning methods aren’t always practical but it limits the number of wet wipes used.

New toys are always fun to have but they don’t need to be brand new to be loved! Consider buying second hand toys or renting them. You can also circulate your toys amongst friends or set up a community “toy library” to share.

Food and shopping habits

I find it difficult to purchase food items in Jakarta without them being wrapped in several layers of plastic wrapping. The best way to avoid this is to shop at the local pasar where you can bring your own containers, baskets or bags to use. Fresh produce can be weighed and stored in reusable bags or wrapped in paper. Social enterprise companies such as Smell the Perfume ( sell handmade produce bags you can reuse to weigh and store fruit and vegetables. But again, you don’t need to buy new items to be green. In fact, you should focus on buying less and reusing what you already have, giving them a new life. In my case, I transformed old bags accumulated over the years and reused them as shopping bags.

Going green is changing the way you shop. A lot of my non-perishable food and beauty products are purchased from small, local businesses, rather than large supermarkets. These private companies are usually run by passionate owners and offer personal customer experiences, such as meeting special requests for bulk buying and refilling. It also helps to support the local economy and reduces the carbon footprint of importing from overseas.

Eating out

Susan Poku, a passionate zero-waste enthusiast and expat committee member of “Going Green in Jakarta” online Facebook community, recently ran a “Zero-Waste” workshop. She shared her great idea of carrying a “takeaway and travel pack” for dining out. This pack stores essentials such as reusable utensils, containers, bamboo/stainless steel straws and cotton napkins. She simply asks restaurants to put any take away items in her containers and refuses plastic straws.

Although many grocery stores in Jakarta introduced a fee for plastic bags to reduce plastic, many people still continued to pay for the bags because they reused them as trash bags. Although this is slightly helping the environment by giving the plastic bags a second purpose, the plastic still takes 500 years to decompose. A solution to this issue is to purchase the very innovative biodegradable plastic bags made with cassava from Indonesian companies such as Telobag (

The Indonesian market is also introducing plastic alternatives that are made from biodegradable, plant-based materials such as bamboo. Bamboo straws, toothbrushes and pens are environmentally friendlier than the traditional plastic ones because they decompose faster and are eco-friendly.

Recycling and composting

Indonesia has many recycling and repurposing programs that will voluntarily receive trash from private homes and businesses. “Bank Sampah” (, is a program where money is traded for recyclable trash.

They will collect the following materials directly from you:

  • All types of plastics (bottles, pouches, wraps, bags etc.)
  • All types of paper, cardboards, milk & juice tetra packs
  • All types of glasses (so long as it’s not broken for safety reasons)
  • All types of Metal – Aluminium cans, foils, packaging etc.
  • All types of Electronic waste – batteries, old computers, wires, cables, ink cartridges, refrigerators, washing machines etc. (minimum 5kg)

They don’t accept – organic waste, Styrofoam, hygiene & sanitary waste (diapers, ear buds, bandages, etc.)

So, what about the other waste? Yayasan such as XSProject ( will accept non-recyclable plastics such as plastic refill pouches (i.e. for detergents) and transform them into reusable items such as bags and cases. The money generated from their sales goes directly into supporting and educating families who collect and sort trash for a living.

Composting is a great option to dispose of food scraps and there are composting systems available that are designed for tight spaces, such as condos. Or you can make your own composting heap. There are many resources available on the Internet for this and it’s not very difficult.

What else?

Other changes that can be made are switching to menstrual cups, removing makeup with a facial towel and making your own household cleaning products. UV water filtration systems are great for households and reduce plastic bottles because they allow you to drink clean water directly from your kitchen tap. I stopped buying paper books years ago and read from electronic devices.

The key to living greener is to reuse, repurpose, reduce and share your knowledge.

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