GEA Ecobrick trainers Russell and Ani lead an ecobrick workshop in the humble yet vibrant urban community of Ciliwung Merdeka, Jakarta this week.  The community is located in the land gap between the Ciliwung River and a Jakarta commuter line train station and train tracks.  The dense community has thrived in this informal pocket of land for decades.

With a thriving community, however, come consumption.  And with consumption, plastic.  What to do with plastic waste in Ciliwung?

“We have no choice but to use plastic!” exclaimed one of the workshops participants.  Virtually every piece of food and drop of drink that enters the community is wrapped in plastic.  Each drink involves a plastic bag and a straw.  Consequently, there is plastic everywhere.

Although there is a healthy system of recyclers picking up plastic bottles and plastic containers in the community, the less valuable plastics (like straws and clear plastic bags) are usually not picked up.  They find there way to the ditch where they are either swept into a pile and burned, or swept into the Ciliwung river.

Although the river still flows, its water is a murky brown.  Strange spiny fish, feeding off sewage, jump to catch gulps of oxygen, as there are no plants in the river to provide it.  Despite the humble circumstances of the community, no one fishes these creatures.  This is where all the waste of the community (and indeed the city) flows into.

Russell and Ani were keen to observe how ecobricks were taken to by the participants.  They were keen to observe what kind of relevance ecobricks have to the Jakarta urban context, and what kind of ecobrick constructions are applicable in dense living situations like this.  According to Pak Sandyawan, a long term community member and urban activist “At the very least, ecobricking is going to be a great therapy for our neighborhood!”

In the Ciliwung Merdeka’s Sanggar, the room was packed full of interested people for the workshop.  A giant pile of plastic disapeared into plastic bottles.  We’ll watch with interest how ecobricking now unfolds in Ciliwung…

–Photos by Irfan Kortschak