Pedal Power, Recycling at UN Meet Buck the Trend in Indonesia

NUSA DUA ~ Rubbish is generally cast aside with little thought for the environment in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, while exhaust-belching traffic clogs the roads in big cities.

But among the lush manicured lawns of the Nusa Dua resort in Bali, delegates at the United Nations conference are being treated to a different vision of a greener Indonesia.

Eco-friendly bicycles glide along the thoroughfares linking the luxury resorts, while representatives from nearly 190 nations are encouraged to think before they throw away their lunch wrappers and superfluous schedules.

“The bicycles, they are handy, delegates are using them … they are faster than walking, and they are environmentally friendly,” said Salwa Dallalah, the UN’s conference coordinator.

She said the UN had worked with the Indonesian government to make the 11-day conference as green as possible.

That is not an easy task when about 10,000 people are gathering, trying to negotiate a plan for tackling climate change when the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol – a treaty to battle global warming – expires in 2012.

Special bins dotted around the conference centre divide plastic and paper, where some delegates can be seen hovering before deciding where to deposit their waste.

Indonesians outside the conference walls have other ideas for disposing of rubbish.

“We put everything into the hole which I share with my neighbors, and every day we burn it,” said Kadek Murtini, a 27-year-old street vendor in Denpasar.

While some Denpasar residents say they pay rubbish collectors to haul away their refuse, scavenging for valuable waste is something of an industry in Indonesia.

Teenager Romli makes his living picking up what other people throw away.

“I go everyday from 5am until 3pm around the city. I collect plastic, and all kinds of tin, aluminium and papers,” he said. “I take everything to my boss and he measures the weight and I get the money.”

Romli is not sure where the toils of his labor end up, and the concept of formal recycling has yet to take off.

“I’ve never heard about (recycling). It must be high technology with big machines,” said shop owner Nyoman Sudarna.

Previous investigations by local environmental groups have found that many residents in Jakarta dispose of waste directly into rivers and canals, while old vehicles ply the capital, contributing to the choking pollution.

But delegates enjoyed lungfuls of clean air in Bali on the free bicycles.

Angela Anderson, of US-based group the National Environment Trust, dismounted her yellow bicycle looking slightly breathless, and said she felt “a little overwhelmed and a little exhilarated.”

“It’s wonderful. The distances are close enough that it is convenient, and it saves a lot of unnecessary emissions. And some of us get exercise that they would not have got otherwise,” she said.

Jenny Farmer, from the Ugandan delegation, sized up which bike to take on a short hop, and was full of praise for Bali’s roads.

“Compared to Uganda, they are amazing. There are no potholes, and people stop at traffic lights,” she said.

But despite the best of intentions, there are pitfalls to pedal-power.

Attendants at the bike drop-off said they were having to start closing up early after 13 bikes “went missing” on the first day.

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