The story of the Australian man making money out of Bali’s rubbish

Image copyright AFP Image caption Howard Botan is pictured above as he sits on a chair made from plastic recovered in the garbage dump Imagine what you could do if you were the only…

The story of the Australian man making money out of Bali's rubbish

Image copyright AFP Image caption Howard Botan is pictured above as he sits on a chair made from plastic recovered in the garbage dump

Imagine what you could do if you were the only person at the heart of a city with a landfill site filled with 500 tons of plastic waste.

Now imagine what you could do if the landfill site was located directly below you.

That’s exactly what Australia’s Howard Botan, a former football and pool official, did when he was visiting the Indonesian island of Bali in 2007.

He paid the villagers who helped him collect the plastic to work for him, and he donated the money for the villagers to pay his wages.

That was the beginning of a profitable partnership between Botan and the villagers that will result in almost half a million cans of recycle going from the dump site directly to scrap metal recycling factories.

“You can go on the Internet and we can find out where we’re sending our plastics. It’s a number you can’t even fathom. We even get kids writing and saying they want to join,” says Pului Janwoimorindo, who received his first paid work from Botan.

“Our kids like to make a living. Look how much money he’s making from us, and that’s our future,” adds Janwoimorindo.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Howard Botan has been able to transfer nearly half a million cans of recycled plastic from the dump site straight to a recycler

“He’s a decent man. He’s kind and generous. He gives his time and money to the people, and they appreciate it.”

Botan and his produce could be the taste of success on a par with that of Apple, with the capital of the Balinese island, Denpasar, nicknamed “the silicon valley of the world”.

What a pity that it’s not the fruit. The Balinese have a proud heritage of pineapple and fruit juice. The first banana plantation in history was planted on Bali. Only 5% of all the fruit in the world is grown on Balinese soil.

Instead the stuff that is left behind after the local Balians eat food scraps is littered all over the island.

Bali’s rubbish problem is so bad that the local government recently urged people to sign up to a countrywide waste ban which they hoped would stop the rubbish overflowing from overflowing collection trucks into the local river and roads.

People started to take notice. They started taking part in weekly organic pickings day, where they fill plastic jugs and buckets with vegetables. People became more involved in their own waste removal.

It’s believed the plastic problem is a sign of wider problems in the developing world.

Volunteers also collect garbage from the streets of Denpasar, which is now getting a creative makeover. A large plant has been converted into a dustbin. The recycling angle is heavily promoted in a local campaign called ‘plas riit’.”

“I’m standing in the most beautiful country in the world. People need to know how beautiful it is,” says Howard Botan, who is happy to have decided to paint pictures of the country on to the façade of the recycling plant so that the villagers see that waste is a problem in Bali and waste is not beautiful.

“After what happened here, the waste started to disappear from the area. It was a kind of payback, an insurance policy. We’ve finally started to clean up the Balinese land. The way I see it, 100 years from now, whoever knows what it is, will know that it was a contribution to the creation of a sustainable world.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption A plant used to be used to collect rubbish in Denpasar’s rubbish collection truck

Howard Botan has been awarded the CNN Heroes award, one of the most prestigious prizes in journalism.

It’s very satisfying, he says, to get his dream project up and running. And now he can concentrate on his long-term ambitions, of becoming a sculptor. He will have to now devote many more hours to the junk collection project.

“Now I’ll be able to work on bigger pieces. Hopefully I can get recognition from the top jewellers to make commemorative pieces, things like that. It’s been a long journey. Time is running out for me.”

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