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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Meals for Trash

Leo Galuh

Jul. 29, 2016

Forty percent of Indonesians earn less than 25 dollars per month. It's not enough to feed them and their families. But one new restaurant has a mission to support these people.

In central Java, on the outskirts of the city of Semarang, the poor make a living by collecting trash at this dump the size of a mountain.

In January, a small and unique restaurant with a mission to support the poor opened nearby. It serves fried catfish and vegetable soup as well as traditional local home cooking, such as fried eggs over rice.

"I come here every day because the food is delicious," says one male customer.

And it’s not just the restaurant’s tasty meals that are attracting attention. It accepts an unusual type of payment.

The customers bring in plastic trash. One meal costs about 20 kilograms of plastic, which is worth about 60 cents.

Fifty-five-year-old Sarimin and his wife opened the restaurant and manage it together. Sarimin used to make a living picking trash for more than 40 years.

He wanted to provide affordable food to friends who were barely managing to survive. He opened the restaurant using the small amount of money he had saved.

"I wanted to improve the lives of the poor who are struggling just like I was," he says. "I wanted them to enjoy their meals."

Typically, more than 300 kilograms of trash needs to be collected to sell it to a recycling company. But it's not easy for one person to collect so much. The trash pickers now depend on the restaurant, which provides them meals for only 20 kilograms’ worth of plastic.

One of the trash pickers says in the past, he couldn't collect enough plastic waste and didn't eat for days. Thanks to this restaurant, his life has improved.

"I no longer have to suffer with an empty stomach. My livelihood is much better now. I can even set aside some money," he says.

Semarang's city government is supporting the restaurant's efforts. It's providing methane gas released by the dump for free, in exchange for reducing the garbage.

"We can reduce the amount of trash and support people who collect it, at the same time," says Agus Junaidi, head of Semarang garbage dump.

For Sarimin, his friends' wellbeing is very important to him. The restaurant is always filled with the delicious aroma of home cooking, and smiling faces.

"I'm happy to see our customers enjoying their meals," he says. "The poor must also have the right to enjoy healthy eating. I want to give them that chance as much as possible."


Leo Galuh joins anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu live from Jakarta.

Shibuya: Sarimin's idea seems unique. Do you think this type of effort is spreading?

Galuh: Yes, it is. Semarang city has plans for similar restaurants in other districts. Sarimin's place is helping the poor while showing people the importance of garbage as a resource. And his work has inspired a local food company. They plan to make handbags from wrappers. They'll add some decorations to help sell them. The company will provide a place for workers to make the bags. Samirin's garbage-collecting group will be there. Part of the profits will go to pay wages and to run the restaurant. Work should start by the end of the month.

Beppu: What is the government doing to address the issues of poverty and trash?

Galuh: They've taken action but it's not enough. Some medical treatments are free for the poor, as well as education. But the hospitals are crowded and have limited facilities. The government is also trying to get families to recycle and businesses to cut waste. But out of all the garbage produced, only 2 percent is recycled. And the amount of waste keeps increasing, along with the economy. The Indonesian government must do something about both issues -- a widening wealth gap and growing garbage.