Heroes of Environment 2009: Yuyun Ismawati
By Hannah BeechTuesday, Sept. 22, 2009
Tourists returning from the Indonesian vacation isle of Bali carry home memories of green rice paddies, pounding surf and colorful Hindu ceremonies. What they leave behind is more alarming: an average of 11 lb. (5 kg) of waste per person per day, 10 times what the average Indonesian piles up. Yuyun Ismawati, an Indonesian environmental engineer who made the island her home in 1996, wanted to hold the tourism industry accountable for despoiling the environment, and to convince locals they had a role in protecting Bali's bounty. The eventual result was BaliFokus, an NGO she started nine years ago to promote community-based waste management in a sprawling island nation where the government can't be counted on to keep things clean.
Before Ismawati, 45, set up her waste-management projects, many hotels in the luxury Jimbaran Bay enclave sold their waste to pig farmers, who rooted through the muck for scraps to feed their animals. The hogs may have been pleased with five-star leftovers, but the rest of the trash tended to be bundled up in plastic bags and abandoned in mangrove forests. "I told hotels: Your job is to sell rooms, not to sell garbage," Ismawati recalls. "We have to protect Bali or else tourists won't want to come here anymore." Today, a network of hotels pays to have its trash taken away and a team of full-time workers sorts through the garbage.
Among Ismawati's latest drives is a cleanup of Indonesia's slums. Few poor areas have ever seen a real garbageman; the government only collects 40% of the nation's solid waste. In 2005, in the city of Bandung, where Ismawati was born, around 140 people died when a 230-ft. (70 m) mountain of trash collapsed and inundated a village. Ismawati and her network have helped set up solid-waste-management programs in seven slums across the country, encouraging locals to make traditional handicrafts out of recycled materials. They're just the kind of souvenirs environmentally minded tourists in Bali might like to take home.