June 11, 2019

More than trash: using waste management as an entry point to sustainable development

Ramboll is assisting the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (DEPA) and the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) developing the Sustainable Islands Initiative (SII) – an innovative solid waste management project that can potentially impact the lives of millions of Indonesian people living on islands.

Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, and the number of inhabitants keeps growing every year. With this trend comes an increasing amount of waste production and a growing demand for electricity.

Currently, Indonesia is estimated to produce around 85,000 tons of waste daily – a number expected to increase to 150,000 tons by 2025. The challenges associated with these staggering quantities are in many places accompanied by underdeveloped waste management systems. Moreover, about 7% of the country’s territory – spread across 17,000 volcanic islands – still lacks electrification.

Turning waste into value

In order to deal with this challenge, the Indonesian authorities, namely the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Energy, have engaged in a strategic cooperation with DEPA and DEA to develop the Sustainable Island Initiative (SII). The initiative aims at establishing and integrating sustainable solutions for waste handling across several Indonesian islands.

Ramboll has recently completed an important assignment for DEPA and DEA, to define the parameters for selecting the islands with greatest potential for the SII project to succeed. The selection criteria proposed by Ramboll will subsequently be used to decide which Indonesian islands are best suited to be integrated in the SII.

“There is a huge potential in the available waste, in terms of energy production and utilisation of bio-waste as a fertiliser – and the technology for this is available. The big challenge is to set up a system that effectively collects and handles the waste and is sustainable in the long term,” says Reno Munksgaard, Project Manager at Ramboll.

In this initial but important step, Ramboll considered several aspects, including the synergy between waste and energy in a Circular Economy approach. In a circular economy, the fundamental thinking shifts from ‘waste management’ to ‘resource management’, as waste moves from being thought of as trash to being a valuable resource for materials and energy production.

In the case of Indonesia, a particularly challenging aspect of this task relates to the country’s geography; Indonesia is characterised by remote islands that lack access to the interconnected electricity grids, which are mostly concentrated on the main islands of eastern Indonesia. Therefore, Ramboll’s assessment also considered the potential for hybrid solutions, where waste-to-energy works in tandem with other forms of renewable energy, such as solar and hydropower.

The foundation for a prosperous future

It is key that the selected parameters support the potential of islands to attract future investment, seeing that one of the ambitions of the SII is to develop local solutions that create long-term development and sustainability.

As Reno Munksgaard explains, “One of the big challenges is to identify and develop solutions that are viable and financially sustainable in the long run. Financial investment in a project is only attractive for investors, if the project can generate sufficient income to cover the full cost of the project and present investors with acceptable returns. To achieve this, it is necessary to look at options to improve the selling price of green energy and increase the revenue from waste management via increased gate fees for the handling of waste. Local engagement and commitment from politicians and citizens are other important issues to have focus on.”