The likes of Evian and Fiji rivaled by a worthy water competitor all the way from Papua, Indonesia?

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

“Our natural water is every bit as pristine as Evian or Fiji water, and I actually think it would be a great opportunity for a Papuan business,” said Mark Johnson, President-Freeport-McMoRan Indonesia.

Johnson is hoping that pristine water will help him reach a goal even more important than becoming a player in the global water market – reducing the number of plastic water bottles in the Highlands and Lowlands.

“We really need to educate people here on how good our water is and educate them on the effort it takes to bring bottled water in and the volume of waste is produces,” Johnson said. “My way of looking at it is that bringing in water here is like bringing sand to the beach.”

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Straight from the Tap. Photo Credit: CorpComm
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Taking that First Gulp of Water. Photo Credit: CorpComm
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Behind the Scenes - System of Potable Water. Photo Credit: CorpComm
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Facilities Management Signage of Potable Water. Photo Credit: CorpComm
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Considering the company ships upwards of 15,000 bottles a day into Papua for distribution throughout the area, it’s easy to see why reducing the plastic footprint is so important.

The amount of money, time and effort it takes to bring in pallets of bottled water to PTFI is nothing less than staggering, said Bill Rising, Vice President-Strategic Business Services and Transportation.

“Every plastic bottle of water consumed here comes from Java, gets put into a container onto a ship, onto a truck, comes up the hill, and gets offloaded and put on a rack so we can drink water. These bottles go into our landfill, and our landfill is filling up,” Rising said. “Meanwhile, we get at least 8 meters (315 inches) of rain a year at this place.”

Easy access = fewer bottles

Water bottles are popular because they are an easy and convenient way to have potable water on hand. That means the company has to make potable water easy to access and carry to help convince residents and employees to make the switch.

Enter Joe Fragnito, Manager-Strategic Planning and Essential Services who headed up a team that finished construction in July of tank stands, pipes and infrastructure for 37 potable water tanks. 

“In certain work areas like the Deep MLZ, we have purification plants. In areas without plants, we’re delivering water in trucks and filling up these tanks,” Fragnito said. “We’ve issued employees refillable, 2-liter bottles so they can fill the bottles themselves. We’ve also provided a system where they can wash their own bottles.”

Plans already are in place to build water treatment plants to provide potable water in the Grasberg Block Cave, DOZ and Big Gossan mines, which eventually will eliminate the need for the tanks. And while a treatment plant in the mill area is slated for completion as early as next year, that didn’t stop Fragnito’s team from installing tanks there.

“Some people might think that we could have just skipped putting tanks in that location and waited a year until the plant was built,” said Tim Gibson, Maintenance Coordinator. “We put tanks there because this is a very important effort, and we wanted to supply potable water to people now.”

You can lead a horse to water …

Perception is reality, and most Indonesians have the perception that tap water is not safe to drink.

“The problem is overcoming the paradigm, the culture of Indonesians that tap water is not safe unless they boil it,” said Sugiharso, Manager-Facilities Management.

They are hoping cold hard facts will do the trick.

“In the offices in Tembagapura and Ridge Camp right next to the water dispensers, we’re going to post lab results that we’ll update frequently showing the water quality of our water compared to bottled water,” Sugiharso said.

Meanwhile, Mark Johnson has added the unofficial title of chief marketing officer and has been busy promoting the water’s potential business opportunity.

“I’m actually working with a local entrepreneur who works on ecotourism to come up with a way to take our water and put it in refillable containers other than plastic bottles, Johnson said. “The water could then be distributed and sold within Tembagapura all the way down to Timika.” (Tom Stauffer)

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