Behind the Scenes of a Batik Wastewater Treatment Experiment

In 2020, as part of our Wonder Women Initiative, we worked with a group of home-based batik artisans in Tuban, East Java to improve their business practices. As one of Indonesia’s most well-known traditional heritage products, batik is commonly used by Indonesians in rituals, traditions, and celebrations. However, many people don’t know that it requires a significant amount of water to produce a beautiful piece of batik.

Batik preserves Indonesian heritage, provides an important source of livelihoods but its production also contaminates water and leads to environmental pollution.

Batik is made through a series of processes. One of these is dying the fabric. This process requires approximately 50 liters of water – to make one piece of batik. Batik artisans in Tuban commonly use chemical dyes to add color to the fabric and throw the wastewater directly into the river or on the ground. As a result, batik wastewater has been a huge contributor to groundwater pollution in East Java.

Batik wastewater has been a huge contributor to groundwater pollution in East Java.

According to the Industry and Trade Office of East Java, there are over 9,800 batik producers in the province that dispose of wastewater straight into the river or on the ground. The Indonesian government has already set standards for safe batik wastewater discharging, yet these are generally not followed. This happens for two key reasons. First, there is a lack of knowledge on how batik wastewater harms the environment. Second, there are no wastewater treatment plants in the region. A treatment plant is relatively costly and simply not affordable for individual home-based batik artisans.

To respond to this challenge, we conducted an experiment to develop a simple and affordable wastewater treatment at the household level. We designed a four-step experiment: a jar test, coagulation and flocculation methods, an activated sludge process, and a simple water treatment system. Our hypothesis was that the reduction of pH levels and color content would result in a decrease in pollutants in the wastewater. This experiment aims to reach safe chemical parameters of wastewater as regulated by the Indonesian government.

Nora, a supporting officer, was conducting the jar test in East Java supported by the Kopernik Team remotely from Bali.

Due to the COVID-19 travel restriction, we could not visit Tuban and conduct the experiment in person. With the help from our Wonder Women Team in Tuban, they supported the on-the-ground experiment. Using online platforms, we guided, monitored, and implemented the experiment remotely.

We conducted a remote experiment with our Wonder Women Team in East Java by providing virtual guidance to implement and monitor the experiment.

We designed an easy-to-follow experiment so that the East Java based team could follow the steps easily. We set up a mini-laboratory in our Tuban Office, prepared the experiment equipment, briefed the team on the process, and delivered the water samples to a certified laboratory. We also developed affordable DIY equipment to support the wastewater treatment.

Conducting a remote chemical experiment was not easy, however, with the commitment of all involved and solid coordination, we managed to complete the experiment.

Lina Setyowati, Kopernik team member in Tuban, preparing the wastewater for filtering.

The experiment showed some promising results: we managed to significantly reduce the presence of several chemicals contained in the wastewater through the wastewater does not yet fully meet the government standards. This experiment is still in the early stages and further phases of the experiment are required for us to be able to find a solution that meets the government standards to treat batik wastewater at a household level.

Working on this remote experiment during the pandemic has taught us to be creative, innovative, and adaptable to continue our efforts in solving social and environmental challenges. We will continue to experiment and find a sustainable way to produce batik and minimize water contamination as a result of the batik production process.