Towards Sustainable Living: The Sukunan program in Java, Indonesia

About the Sukunan Program

About | Partnership | Future of the Program | Supporting the Program

A picture of rubbish on the side of the road in IndonesiaPlastic waste is choking rivers, irrigation channels and rice fields on the densely populated island of Java in Indonesia. In the cities, the air is grey with the toxic smoke of burning rubbish and vehicle exhaust.

Fifteen years ago in the “education city” of Yogyakarta, students rode bicycles, food packaging was mostly banana leaves, and the air was clean. With increasing affluence and modernisation, students are choosing motorcycles (fuelled by leaded petrol), and packaging for everything is now mostly plastic. This plastic ends up in the rivers or rice fields, or is burned with leaves and other mixed rubbish in thousands of small kerbside fires producing toxic, acrid smoke and serious air pollution. But in Sukunan, a small village on the western edge of Yogyakarta, change is in the air.

The Sukunan Waste Management and Sustainable Living Program

A picture of community members participating in the waste management programWith strong local leadership, community involvement and simple technology, this farming village of 800 is setting an example for much of the developing world. Starting with home composting and the separation of waste in the kitchen of each household, they have begun a village program of recycling and re-greening.

Community meetings were held; classes were organised; children learned educational songs about recycling. Old 44-gallon drums were collected, cleaned, painted beautifully, and positioned strategically around the village to receive glass, metal, paper and plastic for recycling, and buyers have been found for these materials.

The Sukunan Program Partnership

About | Partnership | Future of the Program | Supporting the Program


Iswanto and his familyAt the centre of this program is Iswanto, a modest and softly-spoken man in his mid-30s who lives in a small house in Sukunan with his wife and two young children. Iswanto grew up in a more remote village in the district where he was the youngest of 9 children in his family. A serious student, he came into Yogyakarta to study at university in the 1990s.

Iswanto studied to be a teacher and graduated at the top of his class. He went on to do a Master’s degree in Tropical Medicine, and is now a Lecturer at the Polytechnic of Health in Yogyakarta. Iswanto first became interested in waste management when he discovered that mosquitoes carrying dengue fever were breeding in water held by plastic rubbish.

Download Mr Iswanto’s curriculum vitae, songs and poems

The Australian Connection

Lea Jellinek and Ed KieferIswanto first met Lea Jellinek and Ed Kiefer in 2003, when they were living in Yogyakarta as Resident Directors of the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS), a program supporting university students studying in Indonesia. Lea and Ed had attracted some critical attention in the elite suburb where they lived when they planted bananas, papayas and other edible plants around their house instead of the usual merely ornamental gardens. They also colonised the roadside verges with fruiting plants that could be freely harvested by poorly-paid servants, workers and passers-by.

Iswanto visited Lea and Ed and liked what he saw in their home, including the composting of all biodegradable kitchen waste, and recycling of bottles, tins, and paper. Iswanto was already concerned with litter aiding the breeding of mosquitoes, and he had been experimenting with composting his own kitchen. Lea and Ed became volunteer advisors to the Sukunan Program, and Lea found a donor to provide modest financial support. Research and academic support for the project has been provided by the Monash Asia Institute.

Download Curriculum Vitaes for Dr Lea Jellinek and Mr Ed Kiefer.

Australian Tour and Lectures in 2006

Iswanto beside a microwave oven that has been recycled as a mail box in an Australian homeIn March-April 2006, the Australian donor provided funds for Iswanto’s first journey out of Indonesia so that he could share his ideas and learn about Australia’s best practices in waste management, recycling, composting toilets, alternative energy and environmental education.

Iswanto and Lea Jellinek presented a series of lectures to a number of Australian institutions. The illustrated seminars showcased the achievements of the Sukunan project in the three years of its operation. The villagers of Sukunan adopted practices of recycling, including separation of waste into bins for recycling, composting of organic waste and re-use of packaging materials to make carry bags. Jobs and income have been created, mosquito breeding sites have been reduced, air quality has improved, and fruit trees have benefited from compost.

The project has generated considerable local and national interest in Indonesia as a model for environmentally sustainable development.

Download Lecture (Caution: This is a very large file – 24MB)
Download and view key achievements in Iswanto’s Australian Tour, 4 March – 14 May 2006

Iswanto, Lea and Ed are pleased to report that the talks generated considerable interest and exchange of information in Australia. They wish to thank the following people and organizations for sharing ideas and providing encouragement and support for the tour:

The Southeast Asia Node of the Australian Research Council, Asia Pacific Futures Research Network (APFRN) for funding for the Australian tour.

The Future of the Sukunan program

About | Partnership | Future of the Program | Supporting the Program

On the Ground…

A mural educating the village about recyclingA mural educating the village about recyclingA young boy recycling plastic waste

Educating adults and children about air, water and soil pollution is new to Indonesia. The Sukunan Program is a tangible, on-the-ground program that presents an excellent opportunity to spread ideas of sustainable environmental management. It has been attracting attention, newspaper articles, visitors, and hopefully imitators, from many parts of South East Asia.

Back in Sukunan, developers are beginning to buy up parts of the rice fields that buffer the village from the city. Unplanned and unregulated urban sprawl threatens to engulf Sukunan. And well-connected manufacturers continue to produce a tsunami of non-degradable packaging with which waste managers struggle to cope. Many battles loom ahead…

The earthquake that struck central Java on 27 May 2006 has temporarily shifted the focus of the program. Sukunan was close to the epicentre of the earthquake, and 196 houses were badly damaged or destroyed. House reconstruction is taking place with an emphasis on the use of recycled materials.

A rice field with ducks travelling beside itA picture of a farmerA picture of children sitting next to a rice field


At the Academic Level…

Dr Lea Jellinek meanwhile has successfully won funding support from the Southeast Asia Node of the Australian Research Council Asia Pacific Futures Research Network (APFRN) for the second stage of this project, “Communicating Best Practice in Environmental Management to the Asia Pacific”.

The project partners gratefully acknowledge the support of the the ARC -APFRN for their support.

Supporting the Sukunan Program

About | Partnership | Future of the Program | Supporting the Program

The plans for 2006-2007 are to reconstruct the earthquake-damaged homes of the poorest and most needy. Remaining funds will be used to promote environmental education and sustainable living. We have dreams of build ing Sukunan as a model learning centre for environmental education.

Post-Earthquake Houses

The first post-earthquake house for an elderly blind lady and her aging husband was completed in September 2006. Four other houses for larger families are now being completed. Whenever possible, recycled material is used in the construction of the homes. The lower walls of the new houses, for example, are made from a mixture sand, cement and Styrofoam, picked up from rubbish heaps around Sukunan. The Styrofoam in this mixture is a substitute for sawdust which would have been otherwise used in similar constructions. Re-using the Styrofoam has also help in reducing the air pollution that would have resulted from the burning of rubbish heaps, a common practice around the area.

A house built after the 2006 earthquakeA house built after the 2006 earthquake


Donating to the Program

A farmer and his buffalosFarmers working on a rice field




If you would like to support the project, please download the form and send it with your donation* to:

“Sukunan Relief Fund”
c/- Professor Marika Vicziany
Monash Asia Institute, Building 11, Monash University
Victoria 3800, Australia

* Donations are tax-deductible for Australian tax payers.
* Cheques should be made out to “Monash University”

A "becak" carrying passengersThe recycling program in action



Mr Iswanto, , Phone: (M) +62 81 578 755 703
Dr Lea Jellinek, , Phone: +61 266 891 608,+61 439 620 323
Mr Ed Kiefer, , Phone: +6 1266 891 608, +61 48 251 455


The partners of the Sukunan Project and Monash Asia Institute would like to thank the donors for their support. Their contributions are greatly appreciated and have made a difference to the people of Sukunan.