Indonesia's crackdown on waste from abroad has been a source of confusion for the villagers of Bangun. They are earning more income than they grow from rice, they said.

Faced with an influx of waste imports after China closed the door, Indonesia tightened import and customs inspection rules, causing hundreds of tons of waste from abroad to be repatriated.

Conservation groups have praised the campaign, but residents of Bangun say reducing waste from countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia is drying up an important source of income.

“If they are going to deprive us of this, they have to find a solution,” said Heri Massoud, taking a rest after sorting piles of rubbish in the village of 3,600 people. "The government does not provide jobs."

In the backyards of Bangun's front and back houses, garbage piles up on land where rice was once grown.

Among the piles, residents are looking for plastic and aluminum materials to sell to recycling companies. Tofu cheese manufacturers also buy waste to burn as fuel when making this soy-based kind.

Salama, 54, said recycling brought him money, enabling him to educate his children and buy a house and livestock.

Environmentalists argue that waste piles can be profitable, but they pose a threat to the health of the population.

Research by the Ecoton Environmental Group found that plastic particles contaminated groundwater in the village of Bangun and in the nearby Brantas River, which is used by more than five million people in the area as a source of drinking water.

Indonesia imported 283,000 tons of plastic waste last year, up 141 percent from the previous year. It ranks second in the ranking of the world's top polluters, according to a 2015 study.


One thousand tons of plastic waste imported by Indonesia last year.