Diner in the landfill lets patrons pay for lunch with plastic waste

INDONESIA: The Methane Gas Canteen is an eatery like no other – it’s situated right in the middle of the Jatibarang Landfill in Semarang, Central Java, surrounded by mounds of putrefying waste, household rubbish, broken glass and plastic.

Every day, while men, women and children dig through mountains of trash collecting plastic and glass bottles to sell, husband and wife team Sarimin and Suyatmi are busy cooking.

Their customers? Cash-strapped scavengers who have the option to pay for their meals with plastic waste instead of money – part of the community’s novel solution to recycle the non-degradable plastic and reduce waste in the landfill.

Mr Sarimin, 56, weighs the amount of plastic each customer brings to the diner and calculates how much it is worth. This value is then deducted from the cost of the meal, or any surplus value refunded to the customer.

“I think we recycle 1 tonne of plastic waste a day, which is a lot. This way, the plastic waste doesn’t pile up, drift down the river and cause flooding.

“This doesn’t only benefit the scavengers, it benefits everyone,” said Mr Sarimin.

WATCH: How this works (2:08)

The couple were profiled in a recent episode of Indonesia’s Game Changers, a series about inspiring individuals whose creativity and perseverance wrought changes around them. (Link: Watch the full episode here)

The diner, which seats about 30 people, serves dishes like mangut rice with catfish and rice with boiled egg for between US$0.40 and US$0.80 each.

Opened in January 2016, the diner was the brainchild of Mr Agus Junaedi, the former head of Jatibarang Landfill. He was tasked in 2014 by Semarang’s mayor Hendrar Prihadi to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the landfill. Some 800 tonnes of waste end up in this landfill every day, and 40 per cent of it is plastic waste.

Mr Agus said that price of plastic was drastically devalued at that time, at around US$0.04 per kg. “Naturally, no one wanted to collect plastic waste. So, we thought, why don’t we get the scavengers to pay for their meal with plastic waste” he said.


Mr Sarimin said he and his wife have doubled their daily income by opening the diner, compared to just scavenging alone. They make about US$15 a day now, half from the diner business and the other half from scavenging and selling the waste plastic that they collect.  

The couple also utilises methane gas from the organic waste around them to fuel their stove, reducing their overhead costs. When waste is deposited in a landfill, it decomposes and produces methane gas.

Mr Agus said they decided to exploit the methane gas content in the landfill after a fire in 2014 destroyed almost 10 acres of land there. They realised that the methane gas content in the landfill could be a valuable commodity.

In Jatibarang Landfill, the waste is first flattened and then covered with soil to contain the gas. Holes are drilled into the ground and pipes are installed to extract the gas. This gas is distributed free to those living near the landfill, which means that residents don’t have to pay for gas for their cooking anymore.

Mr Agus said: “We want to change the mindset, to see waste as a useful commodity. Hopefully, people would start recycling them and reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill daily.”

Watch the full episode  of Indonesia’s Game Changers here.

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Commentary: Cause of Bali quake can produce even bigger earthquakes and tsunamis

SINGAPORE: A moderate-sized earthquake of magnitude 5.5 shook the southern coast of Bali on Mar 22.

Naturally, it caused consternation to those who felt it, but did very little damage. By now, it is yesterday’s news. But there is a very important lesson to be learnt from this quake.

Bali does not often have earthquakes, and so it remains unknown to many that lurking quietly beneath this tourist island of Indonesia is a slumbering tectonic dragon.

This dragon comes in the form of a subducting slab – a gigantic slab of oceanic lithosphere (also known as the Australian plate) that slopes northward beneath Java.


A cross-section of the subduction zone underneath Java. (Source: Earth Observatory of Singapore/Yves Rene Descatoire & Jamie McCaughey)

Occasionally, this subduction zone produces earthquakes, like the magnitude 5.5 quake that struck Bali. As the plate forces its way down into the mantle of the earth, it deforms, and sometimes that deformation leads to a small, sudden snap within the plate.

And that is what happened on Mar 22.

In fact, thanks to seismology, we can determine the exact location of the snap that resulted in the quake. 

Initial reports by the United States Geological Survey, based on analysis of seismogrammes from around the world, stated that it occurred about 118 kilometres beneath southern Bali.

Seismologists at the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) later refined that measurement to a more accurate depth of about 106 kilometres.

That is approximately how far beneath the resort communities of southern Bali the slab of oceanic crust coming off of the Australian plate is. Just for reference, that’s about 20 km deeper than the north-to-south span of the island.

It would be fair to say that all this is of little more than academic interest. Except for the fact that other parts of the descending slab can produce giant, deadly earthquakes and resulting tsunamis.

Shallower parts of the descending slab, south of Bali, are closer to the surface of the Earth and to the sea floor. Those parts of the subducting Australian plate are so cold that the overlying plate sticks to it as it slowly descends.

No one yet knows how frequently, but perhaps every few hundred years, the friction that holds the two cold plates together yields and a great slippage occurs.  

That sudden slip beneath the seafloor creates a great earthquake and tsunami.

In the entirety of recorded history, such a great earthquake and tsunami has never struck Bali.

One might thus be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. But that was also the prevailing sentiment in Aceh, in the years and decades prior to the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami that killed a nearly quarter million people there in 2004.

Since that earthquake and extraordinarily devastating tsunami, scientists from EOS have learned that its predecessors were more than 500 years in the past and not noted in the ancient chronicles of the traders plying the Indian Ocean at the time. 

The orange star indicates the location of the epicentre of the Bali quake that took place on Mar 22. Since the 1960s, there has been very little earthquake activity, represented by dots, near Bali island. (Source: Earth Observatory of Singapore/Wang Yu)

Although no one has yet proven it, we think that the great subduction zone offshore and under southern Java and Bali could well generate a magnitude 8.5 to 9.0 quake, or perhaps a series of them.

So the recent quake that mildly shook Bali is an important reminder to us that this “sleeping tectonic dragon” lying beneath will most likely some day produce one or several large earthquakes and tsunamis that could affect the southern coasts of Java and Bali.

Professor Kerry Sieh is Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

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New Chinese-French generation speaks up after killing

PARIS: The first generation of Chinese nationals to settle in France, most of whom arrived in a wave in the 1970s, rarely if ever expressed themselves publicly.

Many lacked legal working papers and struggled to learn French, but still they found a foothold as workers in textile businesses and restaurants in the French capital.

Now their sons and daughters – who were born and educated in France – are speaking up in anger over the police killing of a Chinese national in late March.

Chinese immigrants “saw it as a bad thing to criticise the police, and they considered themselves strangers in France,” said Richard Beraha, author of a book dissecting the Chinese experience in France.

But this new generation of Chinese-French is not afraid to make demands, and the older people, “who were reluctant, are joining the movement,” he said.

Shaoyo Liu, a 56-year-old father of five, was shot by a police team called to his apartment in northeast Paris over a suspected domestic dispute.

Authorities say he attacked a policeman with a knife, causing injuries, and that another officer opened fire in self-defence, killing him.

The dead man’s family disputes the police version of events.

The incident caused tensions between Paris and Beijing as well as sparking nights of protests from members of the French capital’s up to 300,000-strong Chinese community.

Zhou, a 20-year-old student who came to protest in Paris this week, drew parallels with the case of Theo, a young black man who sustained severe anal and rectal injuries during a police stop-and-search in early February.

The case prompted such an uproar in France that President Francois Hollande visited Theo in hospital, appealing for calm following a week of sustained riots in mid-February. “When a Chinese person is killed by police, there is no official response,” Zhou said.

People light candles during a demonstration for justice on the Place de la Republique on Mar 30, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Francois Guillot)


About 45 people have been arrested in the series of protests in Paris over the Chinese man’s killing, with many waving banners bearing slogans such as “colonialist police” and “Wake up French Asians! You are still oppressed in this country”.

The anger has also spread online where a petition calling for “justice and truth for Shaoyo Liu” has gathered nearly 50,000 signatures.

In a rare move reflecting the shock in China over the shooting, Beijing said it had filed an official complaint to France.

Beijing called on Paris to “guarantee the safety and legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens in France and to treat the reaction of Chinese people to this incident in a rational way,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday.

On Saturday, however, the Paris police stressed that security for the city’s Asian community is a “priority,” outlining new measures for dealing with complaints, including an improved translation system.

In the course of a meeting with Jun Zhai – the Chinese Ambassador to France – and members from various Chinese immigrant groups, Paris police chief Michel Cadot “expressed his condolences to the Chinese community and his sympathy to the family,” a police statement said.

In August 2016, similar street protests erupted for greater security after the fatal mugging of 49-year-old tailor Zhang Chaolin in the Aubervilliers suburb north of Paris.

Violent robberies tripled in 2016 in the suburb targeting the Chinese community, where ethnic Chinese are seen as lucrative prey as they are thought to carry large sums of cash.

At the time of the tailor’s death, tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese flooded the streets of Paris, protesting against “anti-Asian racism”.

“Chinese people were asking for nothing more than to be safe, but were scorned by the government,” said Yehman Chen, 49. “Today, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Ethnic Chinese have routinely complained about frequent attacks in the community, but say little has been done to help, said accountant and mother Weirong Zhang.

“The first time was in 2003, I had been here a few months and my luggage was stolen, everything I had” she said. “I went to the police. They asked me if I had papers, a credit card. No? So, they discouraged me from filing a complaint.”

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Japan counts down to cherry blossom fever

MITO, Japan: The cherry blossom season in Japan kicks off boozy parties across the country and draws tourists from far and wide, but the annual coming-of-spring ritual isn’t official until inspectors like Hisato Nishii sign off on it.

Over the past few weeks, local weather offices have been sending civil servants like Nishii out to so-called barometer trees that signal when sakura – cherry blossom in Japanese – have bloomed.

It’s no small matter. Millions of Japanese celebrate the explosion of white and pink flowers heralding the change of season, with the Tokyo area expected to hit full bloom this week.

Parks are full, restaurants are packed, and companies get in on the action with sakura-branded merchandise, from pink beer cans to flower-motif candy.

Visitors gather under cherry blossoms in a park in Tokyo. (Photo: AFP/Behrouz Mehri)

The festivities come at a time when Japan kicks off a new business year, many university graduates start their first full-time jobs, and older colleagues shift into new positions.

The very short season – full blooms only last about a week before the petals start falling off trees – has long been cast as a symbol of the fragility of life in Japanese art and literature.

“Sakura have soaked into Japanese people’s minds because they come at a time when many are starting a new chapter in their life,” Nishii said, as he inspected a barometer tree in Mito city, about 100km northeast of Tokyo.

“They capture people’s hearts because they bloom only for a short period of time.”


Blooms in a particular area – they start as early as March in southern Kyushu and as late as May in northernmost Hokkaido – are official when a half dozen or more flowers blossom on a barometer tree.

Inspectors initially come once a day, but once the buds start swelling up, the visits increase to twice daily, Nishii said.

The location of a sample tree is a tightly guarded secret to prevent pranks.

“We carefully observe them so as not to miss any open buds and once we confirm it, we officially announce the blossom season’s start,” he said.

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo. (Photo: AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

The Japan Meteorological Agency has been monitoring cherry blossoms since 1953, but timing the blooms is still far from an exact science.

A big rainfall can wash out the delicate flowers while a cold weather snap sometimes delays their appearance.

It’s a nail-biting experience for some, including many tourists who book travel around the expected times for a full bloom when trees are covered in a blanket of flowers.

Parks in Tokyo have already been filling up as friends, families and colleagues stake out choice spots, laying plastic tarps on the grass as they start hours-long parties under the pretty-in-pink trees.

Yusuke Kinoshita was one of thousands of locals and tourists who gathered in Ueno Park, one of the capital’s most popular sakura viewing spots, even before the blooms started.

“I’ve been drinking since 10 this morning,” the 39-year-old hotel worker said one recent weekday afternoon after his shift, noting that his boss would be joining the boozy party later on.

“It’s the Japanese way for the most junior colleagues to stake out a spot and get the party going once the boss comes.

“We drink because it’s sakura season,” he added. “We drink because it’s spring.”

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