Eco-VillagesLandWaste Systems & Recycling

Integrating Garbage in the Landscape

Filling tyres with trash bricks

We recently spent a month volunteering in Indonesia, on the beautiful and luxurious island of Samosir. We lent our hands to a small but emerging eco-village situated right on the shore of Lake Toba. At Eco-Village Samosir there are many projects underway, from mulching around the 3,000 newly planted trees to creating a food forest to feed the growing number of volunteers.

During our visit, we noticed that a major cause for action in Silimalombu (population: 200) was waste management and recycling. Granted this is a national issue, world wide even, but I guess for us it was more an in-your-face issue to tackle as the image of an eco-village doesn’t usually exist with a litter mentality. The community decided to ‘cope’ with the myriads of plastic bags and other garbage by supplying each home with waste bins and adding receptacles here and there in which they later burn their trash. So although the quaint village appears clean and tidy, the kids, dogs and local fishermen pay the price by inhaling toxic fumes twice a week. Not everyone has adopted the ‘dump and burn’ approach; some simply hide all their trash on the slopes of the lake, where, to this day, few people can see.

I am at a loss with this situation and still do not know how to deal efficiently with this ever-growing phenomenon. It’s sort of a catch 22 scenario. Let’s face it, the Indonesian landscape will continuously be filled with more plastic bags, wrappers and other petroleum-based rubbish. You can literally buy everything per single dose (one cup of coffee, one shampoo, one piece of candy…) and whatever you buy in local stores is generally wrapped a few times in plastic bags.

A failed attempt to make biogas

So, we came up with an idea that would tackle a few problems simultaneously. Behind Ratna’s house, the founder of the eco-village, we found a failed attempt at creating a biogas system. A long trench split her garden in half and in it loads of manure and other unknown waste have been rotting under three layers of tarp. It was beyond anyone’s repair and having been left untouched, it was quickly becoming a new trash collector. Our solution to kill two birds with one stone was to take the problem and make it our way out; we transformed the pit into a raised bed!

The raised bed under construction

Lacking sufficient soil and compost to make an all-natural mound, we decided to integrate the garbage in the architecture. We found a few truck tires laying around that we packed with a surprising amount of plastic trash, retired fishing nets, broken glass and metal bits. Inspired by what local shops do, we tried our best to make mini-bricks of garbage tightly wrapped in a few layers of plastic bags. A handful of villagers even brought us their trash and spontaneously started a clean-up session to contribute to our little project. Once all the tires were filled with waste, we added more bricks of trash in between to create a sturdy structure. As a result, we integrated the equivalent of 33 large barrels of trash in our structure. We were also lucky to have an endless supply of sand from the lake, as it helped us solidify the base.

The next step involved lots of layers of organic matter, wood chips, sticks, branches, and bamboo that were laying around the land. All that was lacking now was a thick layer of compost and soil — which we took from the nearby compost pile.

Covering the garbage with a mix of organic matter

We then saturated the mound with a flower and legume mix (calendula, tobacco, sunflowers, basil, chilies, spinach, beans and other indigenous species) hoping that they will soon cover the entire mound. When flourishing, these plants will also provide a natural barrier against buffalo, who dislike most of them, therefore protecting our vermicompost and other creepers. It will also be a haven for beneficial bugs and predators that will protect the garden, attract pollinating bees and feed our hens.

Making the seed mix

The last layer, made of compost and soil

Covering seeds with soil

Now, I know that integrating all this garbage in our raised bed is probably not the best way to deal with waste, but we tried to suggest original ways to deal with the problem — from planting flowers in old rubber boots to making hanging flower baskets with fishing nets, etc. We are sincerely hoping to inspire this eco-village to find efficient and sustainable ways to deal with their trash.

We are obviously open to ideas, suggestions and criticisms, so feel free to comment and share with us what else could be done.

Here is the short video illustrating this article:

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