Tue, 15 Jan 2002

Having garbage problems? Ask cows for help

Ridlo Aryanto, Contributor, Yogyakarta

While big cities like Jakarta and Surabaya find it difficult to deal with their garbage, Yogyakarta lets cows solve the problem.

The Yogyakarta municipality, in cooperation with Bantul and Sleman regencies, has just built a final dumping site (LPA) on a 12.5-hectare plot of land in Arjowinangun village in the Piyungan district of Bantul.

The construction of the site, according to the head of Yogyakarta's sanitation services office, Sutejo, was only finalised in August 2000 to accommodate an increased volume of garbage. "The new dumping site in Piyungan is much larger and can accommodate some 1,500 cubic meters of garbage coming from Bantul, Sleman and Yogyakarta," he said.

It is estimated that Yogyakarta's more than 1.5 million residents generate some 1,500 cubic meters of garbage per day. "Of this volume, some 850 cubic meters are managed by the administration while the rest is managed by community members in local dumping sites, including those thrown into nearby rivers, something which still has to be brought under control," Sutejo said.

In the three cities -- Bantul, Sleman and Yogyakarta -- 35 garbage trucks daily carry some 1,500 cubic meters of waste from residential areas and public facilities like markets and shopping areas. Of this total, 850 cubic meters are from Yogyakarta residents, 400 cubic meters from Sleman and 250 cubic meters from Bantul.

So, how can this new 12.5-hectare dump site accommodate the 1,500 cubic meters of garbage that arrive each day?

Apart from the usual technique of burning garbage and the recycling of paper and plastic waste carried out by around 250 scavengers, some 350 cows help solve the problem by eating the garbage.

"The price of grass is high and moreover, it's hard to find. That's why we cowherds in this city choose to take our cows here to survive," said Tardi, an Arjowinangun resident who tends to his five cows every day in the Piyungan dumping site.

Usually, cowherds have to sell their cows to provide enough money to buy grass. For instance, if a cowherd has three cows, he has to sell one of them to buy grass to feed the remaining two.

"The price of a cubic meter of grass now stands at Rp 200,000 and three cows will eat it up in a week. If I did that I'd be broke in no time," said Tardi, a father of three.

The free feed also comes with a change in the cows' behavior. Cows are known as herbivores, but for the last two years, cows in the Piyungan dumping site have turned into omnivores.

"Since bringing our cows here, they have been getting fatter since they eat not only the remains of cabbages or water spinaches but also the remains of goat satays from Samirono (one of the biggest restaurants in Yogyakarta)," Tardi said.

According to the dumping site supervisor, Sutjipto, the cows would only stop eating when they chewed the cud. "Don't be surprised if more than half of the garbage dumped into this dumping site can be eaten by the cows from morning until afternoon," he said.

Gadjah Mada University's professor of animal husbandry, Zaenal Bachrudin, said there were further advantages to the process. He said that Rumen bacteria in the cows' excrement could help the garbage's decomposition into peat, thus supporting the soil's fertility.

When the garbage had turned into thousands of cubic meters of peat, it might open up business opportunities, he added. "I think the Yogyakarta administration should consider adding a business unit to sell garbage from this dumping site without having to build a factory to do the same process," said the dean of the university's school of animal husbandry.

If the project were successful, he said, it could become a model for other administrations in dealing with their garbage.