With its content that pollutes the environment and life-threatening, the battery waste is still scattered all over the place. How must we act?

 Morning

That day Warsito, 37, wakes up as he normally does, early in the morning before the sun got too high. Around 6 am, he arrives in RT 06, Gang Haji Sajim, Radio Dalam, South Jakarta. He is going to scavenge waste.

In that narrow alley, there were three trash bins with different colors: red, green, yellow. The red bin is for dry waste, green one is for wet waste, and the yellow one for B3 (Bahan Berbahaya & Beracun or Dangerous & Toxic Materials) waste. However, that is just a theory. In reality, the waste is mixed.

Warsito could not care less. The three bins are combined into one. Then he takes it away. How about battery waste? “Same thing,” he said. He takes it away.

Warsito is cleaning service with a lot of experiences. Even so, since he has started scavenging in 1981, Warsito never knew that battery waste must be separated. This is because the chemicals inside the battery can pollute the environment and threaten lives.

B3, by definition, is everything that contains dangerous and/or toxic materials. These materials because of its characteristic or content can directly or indirectly damage or pollute the environment and endanger human. Battery waste is included in this category.

Opening up a battery is like opening up a warehouse full of chemicals. It contains so many heavy metals and corrosive materials, starting from tin, mercury, nickel, cadmium, lithium, zinc to manganese. These chemicals are the resources of battery. However, for human body, these materials are toxic.

Cadmium, for instance, can cause liver and kidney damage. Inorganic mercury can creep into brain cells and destroy nervous system. It makes people crazy and can even lead to death. Lead, on the other side, attacks the kidney and reproduction function.

“Unfortunately, the dangerous effect of battery waste is indirect,” said Dr Eko Nugroho who wrote a thesis about environment health. With small posture and strong package, the battery waste danger potentials are often missed from people’s attention. It is often underestimated and neglected. Meanwhile, once it is broken or leaked, the threat of battery becomes so real.

“The effect of battery waste pollution which can appear in short time is the respiratory problems. However, in 5-10 years, various diseases or other body damages can appear,” explained Eko.

It may not come soon, but it will surely come.

Other thing that needs to be kept in mind is that Dangerous & Toxic Materials waste is not only battery waste. It also includes electronic waste, used packaging and used accumulator. These are even more worrying since the heavy metals from the waste cannot be neutralized by the environment.

Heavy metals can enter the ground or water and then are consumed by plants and animals. Once people consume those plants and animals, the heavy metals will also enter human body and pile inside it.

Around the industrial area in Serpong, the investigation result from the Committee of Gasoline Elimination (KPBB) shows that the lead content in blood of local residents reached 12 microgram per deciliter, above the maximum limit set by WHO which is 10 microgram per deciliter.

In Cinangka Village, Bogor, there are a lot of illegal used accumulator businesses. The effects is that local children got respiratory infection because of the high lead content in the air. On the ground, the content reaches to 270.000 ppm ( art er million), which is way above the limit recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) which is 400ppm. More than a dozen children are found with mental disorder.

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Midday

It is already afternoon in temporary Waste Collection Site (TPS) Gandaria Utara, South Jakarta. With short pants and white short, Warsito stands on a mountain pile of trash on waste truck, four to five meter above the ground. Then he gives order to other scavengers. “Here, pass it over!”

From below, other scavengers move trash in relay from cart to the truck, but this is not all.

Beside the truck, there are sacks of trash bags lining up. Those trashes are not included in delivery. Those are the trashes that have been selected and neatly packed: Ready-to-sell trash.

If scavengers have extra income, it comes through waste selection. There are types of waste which can be resold to the stalls. Papers, cans and other plastic products are a few among them. The prices are varied, based on the deal. However in general, it ranges between 500 rupiah to 25,000 rupiah per kilogram. “It is quite good for additional income,” said Warsito. These stalls are the ones which sell them again to the factory to be recycled.

Not only scavengers, the society can also participate, for instance through the waste bank. The work mechanism of waste bank is like a broker. It is the bridge between the society and the stalls. They pay people who collect their waste then sell the waste to the stalls. The margin of buying-selling price becomes their operational cost.

Rizka D. Anggara, the manager of Melati Bersih Waste Bank in Pamulang, Tangerang, said that her bank accepts 21 type of waste, starting from bottles, notebook, cans, har pipe, VCD, to the ones included in dangerous and toxic materials categories such as used bug spray can and accumulator.

Even though this is an effective initiative, the waste bank still has flaws. From the 21 types of waste accepted by Melati Bersih Waste Bank, not one mentions waste battery.

“There are no stalls that want to buy battery waste,” said Rizka, which is also approved by Warsito. Battery waste does not have economical value.

Therefore, from temporary Waste Collection Site (TPS) Gandaria Utara, the waste battery is not included in the line of neatly packaged sacks but it is scattered with other waste in the truck. It is waiting for its delivery to the Centered Waste Dump Site (TPST) in Bantar Gebang, Bekasi. The wrong final destination.

Late afternoon

Later that afternoon Warsito is free from duty. However, the truck which collects his waste has just arrived in the Centered Waste Dump Site Bantar Gebang.

Centered Waste Dump Site Bantar Gebang is a busy place. Every day, tens of giant trucks of waste transporter unload the cargo there. A truck carries averagely 10 tons, sometimes even more. We never know how much battery waste in there.

“It should not go there,” said Ir. Ilham Malik, MSc, Deputy of Dangerous and Toxic Material Management from Ministry for the Environment. Ilham said a lot people in the society have not yet understood the danger of battery waste for the environment, and they tend to throw it away with other household waste.

However, the waste battery problem is a multi dimension problem. The lack of understanding in the society about the danger of battery waste is a thing while the fact of bad waste management infrastructure is another thing. That is not all. Jakarta-and also Indonesia- also deals with other issues: There is a hole in government regulations.

In the context of regulation, according to Regulations No.18 year 2008, the dangerous and toxic materials is included in category “specific waste”, which is waste that requires special management because of its character, concentration and/or volume. In the Article 23, it is mentioned that the specific waste management responsibility lies in the hand of government, and its provisions are arranged in Government Regulation or Peraturan Pemerintah (PP). The problem is that the PP does not yet exist.

“At this moment the Government Regulation Draft or Rancangan Peraturan Pemerintah (RPP) for specific waste has existed, but it is still in process of assessment in the law firm,” said Ilham. About the deadline of its ratification, Ilham answered, “Of course we want this to be done as soon as possible, but this process involves many parties.

According to Ilham, battery waste will later be treated equally with other dangerous and toxic waste. It will not go to Bantar Gebang but to the special waste dump which is run by the waste management companies.

In Article 15, it is also mentioned that the producers are obliged to manage packaging or goods they produce, especially the ones that cannot or is difficult to decompose by natural process. Battery needs 150 years to decompose. This means all battery factories in Indonesia are obliged to collect battery waste. However, what is the mechanism?

“We have met the big battery producers to discuss this matter,” said Ilham. Even though they respond positively, they still think about the right mechanism. They do admit that it is a difficult thing to do. In practical calculation, collecting battery waste means extra cost.

However, the Regulation has been legalized. And the management problem of battery, dangerous and toxic waste will not go anywhere without the gratification of Government Regulations and its derivatives.

Edgar Henry Schein, a professor from MIT Sloan School Management, propose one model of three-level pyramid called “cultures level”. The lowest part is “assumptions” or collective assumptions in the society. The second level is “espoused values” or values which can support. And on the top level is “artifacts” or real elements which can be seen by the society. If someone wants to change the culture, then three of them need to be fulfilled.

In battery waste context, the lowest level is translated into society awareness; the middle level is the regulations, while the top level is various infrastructures, such as three-color trash bin, pickup truck, banner and slogan.

Indonesia has owned the lowest level and the top level of the pyramid, though it is not used maximum. The hole in the middle level is the one which needs to be filled.

While waiting, the thing society can do related to battery waste is to pay attention to the green living concept and Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). The formula is 3R: Reduce, Reuse, And Recycle. The order must remain the same.

Cut or save the battery usage, use recharge batteries. If it needs to be wasted, put it in the trash bin with the logo of B3 (dangerous and toxic materials). No B3 trash bin yet? Propose to the officer in the neighborhood to make one. This is the smallest thing we can do.

Evening

Warsito spends his night like most workers, resting after a long day at work. He lives alone in a small house just a few alleys from RT 6. His wife and children lives in the village. Before going to bed, he likes to listen to campur sari tape, Javanese traditional song.

Tomorrow, early in the morning, he will be back browsing the trash in the neighborhood. Hopefully, tomorrow he can choose wiser which trash he can pick.

List of potential dangerous and toxic materials waste from household beside battery

  1. Kitchen: floor cleaner, gas compost, glass cleaner, plastic, rat poison, cleaner powder.
  2. Washing station: whitener, detergent, floor cleaner, shoe polish, carpet cleaner.
  3. Bathroom: aerosol, disinfectants, floor cleaner, hairspray, hair dye, mothballs, medical shampoo.
  4. Bedroom: mothballs, furniture cleaner, floor or glass cleaner, bug spray, nail polish or cleaner.
  5. Storeroom or garage: oil, accumulator, brake oil, paint, glue.
  6. Others: expired medicines, fertilizers, insecticide, room freshener.

Published in Reader’s Digest Indonesia, Okt 2015.