Say Hello to Ibu Retno Hapsari of Jakarta-based Yayasan – XSProject

Jakarta is full of good people doing good things. People who, when confronted with adverse circumstances do not look away but instead say, ‘What can I do to make a difference’. In today’s A Journey Bespoke blog post we meet one such person.

Ibu Retno Hapsari, Manager of Jakarta-based *yayasan XSProject, positively impacts on the lives of many of Jakarta’s Underprivileged each day, whilst simultaneously helping to make a difference to the City’s overwhelming rubbish problem.

We talk to Ibu Retno about Jakarta’s Trash Pickers, how XSProject supports this community and most importantly, how each of us can make a difference. We warmly introduce you to Ibu Retno Hapsari, a woman of boundless energy, positivity and commitment to making change.

*Kenalkan Ibu Retno Hapsari 

XSProject Jakarta
Ibu Retno pictured here with two workers at XSProject – Left: Andre (21 years old), used to be a Trash Picker and now works at XSProject sorting and cleaning recyclable materials. Wandi (right) is a father of 3 children. He was once a Trash Picker but no longer works in that capacity, instead working at XSProject to make income for his family.

Where are you from originally?
I am Indonesian and I was born in the city of Magelang in Central Java where the famous UNESCO World Heritage listed temple of Borobodur is situated. My Father was in the military. There is a military school in Magelang and he was an instructor in that school. In the late 1960’s he moved his family to Jakarta to work at the Indonesia Secretary of State. I was in my primary grades. Both my Parents were from Jogyakarta, Central Java, so I consider myself as Jogyanese (from Jogya) if people ask my originality.

Can you tell us a little about your academic/working background
After completing my secondary schooling in Jakarta, I returned to Jogyakarta to study at the Gajah Mada University, studying French Literature. I also completed various other courses.

My working background has varied. I’ve taught Bahasa Indonesia, worked in a bank, worked as an interpreter and also at the Training Department at McDonald’s Corporation. At one time I also worked at a USAID project.
In 2007 I began managing XSProject where I’ve remained ever since.

Ibu Retno and Wanti
Ibu Retno chatting to Wandi about life with a young family and his work-related needs

What is XSProject?
XSProject is an Indonesian non profit organisation based in Jakarta, which works to improve the lives of Trash Pickers and their families. XSProject provides them with critical necessities such as education, healthcare and life skills.

Health Record Books Indonesia
Health Record books for many of the Trash Picker’s children who are sponsored by the XSProject

Our goal is to break the generational cycle of thinking that picking trash is the only option, by providing new opportunities for the children of the Trash Pickers.

How did the idea for XSProject come about?
In 2004 Ann Wizer, an expat lady from the USA started XSProject. Ann is an artist who whilst living in Jakarta, used trash as a medium for her artwork. Ann was particularly concerned about the environment, women and the poor community.

Can you tell us more about the children that XSProject supports?
XSProject provides financial support for the education of the children of Trash Pickers. Currently, the Project is helping 78 children through their XSProject – XSEducation Scholarship program. This includes 46 Primary aged children, 21 Middle School, 8 High School/Vocational and 3 College students. Next academic year, 4 of the High School students will go to College as well.

XSProject university students
These young ladies are the daughters of Trash Pickers. They are the first students to attend College through the XSProject – XSEducation Scholarship program (Photo supplied by XSProject)
off to university
Due to the support these boys have received, they will soon attend College (Photo supplied by XSProject)

Funds raised through XSProject pay for all school expenses including school uniforms, school shoes, school supplies (books, stationery etc), monthly school fees as well as paying for any activities organised by the school. The total cost is out of reach for most Trash Picker families and as a result, often the children do not attend school, instead accompanying their parents whilst they’re searching for rubbish. The sight of children riding in the Trash Picker’s cart is not uncommon around the streets of Jakarta.

children of indonesia
Primary-aged children of Trash Picker parents. XSProject seeks sponsorship for the education of children, just like these (Photo supplied by XSProject)

Who works at XSProject?
People who work at XSProject come from all different backgrounds.
We have professional staff who work in Finance, Production, Business and Sales. We have professional talented sewers who produce good quality products out of trash.
We also have some staff who used to be Trash Pickers and now have jobs and skills away from the rubbish heap.

The XSProject team (Photo supplied by XSProject)
guitar case
Creating a pattern for a bespoke guitar case which will be made from recycled materials (Photo supplied by XSProject)

How do you source the recycled materials to create your products?
We acquire our recycled materials through two means:

1. XSProject buys plastic consumer waste from the Trash Pickers who collect refuse that has been thrown away without consideration for environmental or social impacts.

2. We also seek donations of reusable waste from companies, schools, groups and also individuals. In many cases these groups are advocates for working towards saving the environment.

The waste that we collect is then transformed into products. This extends the life of the unwanted waste by turning it into good quality, functional products.

What do you do with the proceeds from the sales of XSProject products?
Proceeds from the sale of products are used to run the operation of the organisation; to keep providing a livelihood to the sewers, and for the organisation to secure help and funds. This ensures the future continues to look brighter for the Trash Pickers and their children.

sewing with plastic
Pak Firman making a tote bag out of recycled plastic pouches (Photo supplied by XSProject)
making XSProject products
A lot of care and attention to detail has gone into the making of each XSProject product (Photo supplied by XSProject)

Can you give us a snapshot of the garbage problem that Jakarta faces?
The garbage problem in Jakarta and in most cities, big and small all over Indonesia is due to lack of government commitment to provide a good waste management system to handle the waste. On top of this, many Indonesian people don’t have the habit of throwing their trash in the trash bin. There is a lack of understanding of the importance of sorting and throwing trash in the trash bin.

please separate your waste
Unseparated waste is unhygienic, potentially hazardous and is extremely time consuming for the Trash Picker to sort, ultimately keeping them from making more income (Photo supplied by XSProject)

What do you feel are the greatest contributing products to the mounting garbage problem?
The biggest trash comes from the wet market, but also because there is no separation between wet and dry waste and that creates a garbage problem.

However, now more and more organisations and groups all over Indonesia are working in promoting, campaigning and educating schools as well as communities to reduce waste. They are working with the government to find solutions to the waste problems.

XSProject recognised that the plastic refill pouches which fill innumerous shelves in most Jakarta supermarkets were not being collected by the Trash Pickers as they are made from low-value plastic
To encourage the Trash Pickers, XSProject assigned a monetary value to this low-value plastic, making it worthwhile for the Trash Pickers to collect and on-sell to XSProject where they are transformed into tote bags and other colourful products (Photos supplied by XSProject)

How can each of us reduce waste in our Jakarta homes? Can you give us 5 practical tips?
1. Separate the waste into dry and wet (food and any organic waste). The wet waste goes down to the ground (compost or general waste).

The dry can be separated into papers, bottles, plastic, etc.
Give the dry waste to the Trash Pickers so they can sell the trash – this way we are giving them extra income, and our dry waste eventually goes to the recycling company.

Bundle up your clean recyclable materials, such as cardboard (Photo supplied by XSProject)
Separate plastics, removing lids and ensuring containers are clean (Photo supplied by XSProject)

2. Refuse and reduce waste – especially non-biodegradable waste. Always be aware of where the trash that we create goes.

3. Always bring your own bags so we can refuse any shop who offers us plastic bags.

Don’t buy new shopping bags – instead buy your reusable shopping bags from XSProject to give life to repurposed materials

4. Refuse to purchase any food wrapped in plastics or foam. Remove the plastics before purchase, where possible (eg: individually wrapped fruit).

5. Reduce unnecessary purchases so as not to create excess waste and to minimise the need to create excess materials.


What was the first product made by XSProject?
The first product that XSProject made was a tote bag made out of consumer waste plastic pouches (eg: refill packs), because we noticed that Trash Pickers don’t pick them up because they can not sell them. To help clean up and reduce the waste plastic pouches, we ask the Trash Pickers to collect them and we then purchase from them.

A common sight in Jakarta supermarkets – shelves upon shelves of fabric softener refill pouches
plastic waste
Refill pouches of dish detergent are a large contributor to consumer plastic waste
Colourful storage made out of low-value plastic

How/where do we go to purchase XS Products?
You can purchase our products at Alun Alun at Grand Indonesia, Chic Mart in Kemang, or at our office in Cilandak (see below for details).

You also can email us for a catalogue. You choose and we can send the purchase with minimal delivery cost.

Made from recycled advertising banners, these storage bags can be used as pencil cases or even toiletry bags
A selection of products by XSProject (Photo supplied by XSProject)

What can each of us do to support the XSProject?
Share the word about XSProject with family and friends.

Purchase our products which always remind us to think before we create waste.

Help and support the Trash Picker’s children. A better education means a better future for them, hopefully breaking the generational cycle of trash picking. XSProject is always seeking sponsorship for their children. For more information contact Ibu Retno directly via email

Apart from XSProject, are there any projects that you feel we should get behind in Jakarta and/or Indonesia?
Fortunately there is a growing movement throughout the archipelago towards change for the better. Many organisations and/or groups now exist that focus on reducing waste. Some suggestions include:

Yayasan KDM (Kampus Diakoneia Modern)
Navakara – Ways to Zero Waste
Waste 4 Change
Komitas Bebas Sampah 2020

What is the best way for us to keep up with XSProject?
We continue to work on improving our website and our social media tools. But you can follow us at our Facebook, Instagram, and website. Due to lack of funding we don’t have dedicated staff to keep up and maintain our source of information. That is a challenge for our organisation.

Facebook: XSProject
Instagram: XSProject
Website: XSProject

the need to separate waste
Without separation of waste, this is the squalor that the Trash Pickers must sift through in order to make an income. Recycling saves them from this unhygienic and potentially hazardous task (Photo supplied by XSProject)

A Call to Action. 

Do you live in Jakarta? We encourage you to play your part in reducing waste in this city we call home. Here are a few simple suggestions:

Live in a compound? Organise a collection of recyclable materials within your community. Even if only a few households take part, the amount of recyclable materials will be significant.

Suggested method:
Into 4 clearly-labelled collection bins (with secure lids), sort rubbish into Glass, Paper, Metal, Plastic. Ensure all rubbish is as clean as possible before depositing into each collection bin. Deliver recyclable materials to XSProject on a regular basis.

Used magazines, old school books, newspapers, used paper can all be recycled (Photo supplied by XSProject)

Live in an apartment? Inquire as to the process of recycling. If by chance there isn’t a system in place, discuss with Management how this situation can be remedied. XSProject can assist you with a strategy.

Live in a suburban-style neighbourhood? Join with like-minded neighbours to organise the collection of recyclable materials. If within close proximity to each other, divide up the collection of materials.

For example, House A is the depot for glass and metal, House B the depot for paper and plastic and House C the drop off for ‘Other’ (eg: timber, fabric etc). On a regular basis, deliver materials to XSProject, or donate directly to your local Trash Pickers so that they generate more income.

recycling in jakarta
This is the first stage of separating rubbish – into wet and dry waste. From here, the ‘sampah kering’ is further separated into the different recyclables.

What about in the Work Place?
Do not allow materials to be disposed of without consideration (eg: promotion and advertising materials are often incinerated as they take up too much storage space and are relatively cheap to replace). All of the following can be donated directly to XSProject: Billboards, Banners, Flexiboard, Spanduk – even empty coffee sachets and coffee bags are recyclable.

Drying advertising banners which will be used to create new products (Photo supplied by XSProject)

Reclaimed materials ready for a new lease of life

If you have a doubt, ring Ibu Retno at XSProject – if XSProject can accept the materials, they certainly will.

Jl. Kaimun Jaya No. 28
Cilandak Barat
Jakarta 12430
Ph: +62812 105 3614

Jo and Liz - A Journey Bespoke blog
Jo and Liz with Ibu Retno at XSProject headquarters in Cilandak Barat, South Jakarta

Interesting in more Jakarta-based stories related to reducing waste, up-cycling and conscious consumption? Here are three contrasting stories – all of which we are sure you will enjoy 🙂

Rubbish in Jakarta – The mounting problem and the Ffrash Solution
Threadapeutic – Making a difference through Fabric Upcycling
Elegant and Ethical Home decorating with Paisley Things

*Yayasan : A non profit organisation that typically either donates funds and support to other organisations or provides the source of funding for its own charitable purposes.

*Kenalkan : Let me introduce.

Words: Retno Hapsari and Jo Stevens     Photography: XSProject and a Journey Bespoke


  1. Christine Stevens says

    Congratulations of this article you two lovely ladies. You have highlighted not only the desperate need to recycle but have also shown us how easy it is for all to actively participate in this worthwhile exercise. Our recycled “rubbish” then helps create a living for the less fortunate and is in some small way helping our environment. Well done. Very informative and detailed article as always.

    • ajourneybespoke says

      Dear Chris, We’re so glad you enjoyed the article. It can feel so overwhelming that we lose hope that a difference can be made, but in reality if we each made a small contribution through recycling our waste we are inadvertently helping others as well as the environment. We do hope that bringing this story to the attention of our audience, a small change will result. Thanks for taking the time to send us a comment. Best wishes always, Jo & Liz

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