Jarkarta Post: fair and balanced reporting

Article explaining both sides of the "e-waste", "reuse", "repair" and "dumping" story in today's Jakarta Post

E-waste the new gold in the city of scattered garbage

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 10/23/2009 12:22 PM | City

Watchamacallit, anyone?: A street vendor displays piles of obscure and sometimes malfunctioning electronic knickknacks in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, in this file photo. JP/Dina IndrasafitriWatchamacallit, anyone?: A street vendor displays piles of obscure and sometimes malfunctioning electronic knickknacks in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, in this file photo. JP/Dina Indrasafitri

In a city where administration officials can only daydream about a sophisticated waste management system, one man’s pile of electronics waste, or e-waste, might be another’s gold mine.

"I guess that's just Jakarta. You can sell anything," said Wellman H.S.T, a scrap collector who operates in Tebet, South Jakarta.

Wellman has been involved in the scrap buying and selling business for six months. He said he usually earned between Rp 6 million (US$638) and Rp 15 million a month.

Across from the small pick up truck in which he sat was a small "office", where different kinds of garbage were weighed and sorted according to their materials.

Sacks of plastic bottles and piles of flattened cardboard boxes filled the back of the truck while more waited in the "office".

Sometimes, amid the piles of bottles and cardboards, one could discover a broken computer mouse, scratched compact discs, and even more sophisticated electronics such as laptops.

"The electronics are dissected into several parts, such as plastic and copper, then those parts go to different places," Wellman said.

The plastic parts, for example, usually went to a factory in Durensawit, East Jakarta, where they would be recycled into plastic grains that can be molded into new things.

"The metal parts usually go to another factory in Pulogadung *East Jakarta*," he said.

Wellman's business is just the first step in the lengthy recycle process for the city's electronics.

The whole journey proves that in the capital even the most allegedly useless, or even hazardous, things, are marketable.

At a dump site not far from Wellman's truck, scavengers were busy unloading the day's picks, which they collected from the houses in the neighborhood.

"Sometimes the cart people *second-hand items collectors* come to look for things that they can sell again," a garbage man said..

House owners often call them to come to their houses when they have goods that they no longer use, including electronic equipments.

Occasionally, they also look for those goods in garbage bins or dump sites.

They are then likely to offer those goods to others who can profit from them, such as the vendors at a flea market in the Jatinegara area, East Jakarta.

In Jatinegara, one can find the most bizarre things sold by these vendors, from broken speakers, ancient joysticks for video games, and other obscure electronic components.

"Sometimes I buy things from the cart people, or sometimes people come here to sell their used goods," said Arifin, a vendor.

That day he displayed a broken computer mouse, a dusty doll, and old pairs of shoes.

When asked about whether the mouse was still working, he said he wasn't sure.

"When people sell me electronics, I ask them if the goods are still working or not and I believe what they say," he said.

"When a buyer asks me if the goods are still working or not, I just tell them I don't know."

The mouse would usually be sold for Rp 5,000, if people do not bargain, he said.

Arifin said some people bought broken electronic wares, to use the components to fix other electronics.

"There's a man in Bekasi who specializes in buying broken television sets to repair them and sell those repaired units to others."

Not all vendors paid scant attention to the functioning status of the electronic goods.

Abdul Latief, who sells his wares near Arifin's spot, said that all his goods - which included printers and land telephones, were still usable.

"I always test them... I even check whether the printers can still connect to computers properly," he said.

A few meters from Arifin and Abdul Latief were rows of vendors selling used cellular phones.

Unlike the sets sold in most vendors in trade centers such as the ITC Mangga Dua, West Jakarta, or Roxy, West Jakarta, these sets were stripped to the essentials without any packaging or even charging units.

Buying cellular phones in that condition might be a risky step to take, but still, many flocked to these roadside vendors.

"Why would anyone go to Roxy to buy or sell their cellular phones? It's too far, and unlike here, the prices are higher and the trade is less flexible," said Irfan Sofyan, a cellular phone vendor.

Even when the cellular phones are broken, some people will still find a use for them, Arifin said.

"Some people use them to learn how to repair broken phones."

Electronic goods that fail to end up in flea markets will likely be dissected and end up in places like Wellman's rusty scale to be priced before being taken to the recycling factories.

Thus, everyone in the electronic waste chain benefits, if not necessarily from gold taken from circuit boards.

"Almost nothing is actually thrown away," Wellman said.

Maryanto, from the non-profit organization Friends of the Environment, warned that the city's methods of re-using and recycling were unhealthy.

"The cart people and others in the informal sector who are working in the field *of selling garbage* base their choices *on what to keep or throw away* on the value of the goods, not the level of hazard that might come with those goods," he said. (dis)

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