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Building a Nation Through Waste

Updated: May 20

by Shanika Musser, Field Staff, Indonesia


I love waste. To be more specific, I love the reduction, management, utilization, and transformation of waste into something valuable. “One person’s trash is another’s treasure” rings especially true for me, as I see potential in pretty much everything. One of my favorite classes in college was Solid Waste Management, and I participated in stream clean ups throughout my college years. As I considered what to do after I graduated college, I searched for opportunities to work with waste, sustainability, and community development.

Waste utilization is part of what initially drew me to REI in Indonesia and the work I’ve done here. Initially, I worked with the SunRei social enterprise, a company that takes fruits with low market value that are often left to rot (waste!) and turns them into a valuable product to the benefit of farmers, employees, customers, and the overall economy.

Shanika working in the lab with fellow UB student

Waste utilization also motivated my thesis research project, which I’m working on right now as I complete my graduate program at a university here. SunRei industrial processes generate significant amounts of fruit waste, so I focused my research on transforming that waste into energy that can be used to power factory operations. While my research was only performed at a small scale and would require much more work before it could be installed at the factory, these were the first steps in the development of a system that would create more jobs (required to operate the system), benefit the environment (reduce waste and dependence on fossil fuels), and hopefully reduce fuel costs for the enterprise. These are the kinds of win-win-win systems that get me excited, and that’s why I am eager to continue working with REI in Indonesia and our new partner.

REI in Indonesia recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate with Indonesia’s Institute for Agricultural Instrument Standardization (BSIP) in the effort to increase the competitiveness of Indonesian farmers. One aspect of this effort is the utilization of waste – by transforming agricultural waste into something of value, the economic viability of farming increases. Another aspect of this effort might involve developing technologies, methods, and standards that reduce the amount of agricultural waste generated to begin with. I am excited to work alongside BSIP and farmers to promote the cultivation and utilization of Indonesia’s abundant natural resources to benefit the people and the planet.

Shanika collecting discarded mango seeds at the SunRei factory

I also look forward to seeing how lessons learned and connections made during my master’s program in agro-industrial technology at Universitas Brawijaya (UB) will continue to open doors as I enter the work force. Through the master’s program, I learned valuable lessons and skills regarding cultural values, academic language, and communication within Indonesian institutions. I also developed close relationships with classmates and professors. REI in Indonesia has had an ongoing relationship with the Faculty of Agricultural Technology at UB for many years, and we hope to continue to collaborate for many more years. Thanks to this relationship, last summer one intern from the US and one intern from UB helped me with some preliminary research for my thesis. It would be amazing to see students and professors from UB also collaborate with us in the work we will be doing with BSIP.

The future is bright for Indonesia, and I am thankful to play a small part in that story doing the kind of work that I love.

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