Going to Waste: Recycling in Jordan

Household recycling in Jordan is next to non-existent, but a new strategy for solid waste management introduced by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs hopes to change this. 

By Jane Hosking

Many of us don’t think twice about tossing out bottles, cans, and paper along with the rest of our trash. In fact, a mere 7 percent of the 2 million tons of municipal waste produced annually in Jordan is recycled. The Kingdom doesn’t even have a nationwide household recycling program, and up until now, the practice has been largely carried out by informal collectors, also sometimes referred to as scavengers who sift through the nation’s dumpsters and landfill sites looking for trash to turn into cash.

But this may be set to change with the development of the National Strategy for Municipal Solid Waste Management, which was introduced by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and adopted by the cabinet last month. The new strategy, which is the first of its kind in the Kingdom, acknowledges a “complete absence of regular sorting-at-source programs” and therefore outlines a nationwide plan to set up separate collection systems for recyclables, such as paper, metal, plastic, and glass, by the year 2034.

Hussain Mhaidat, the director of local councils at the ministry, said the implementation of the strategy will commence next year and will include a pilot project for recycling that will involve four municipalities in the northern region of the Kingdom.

Mhaidat, who is heading the technical committee that’s working to implement the strategy, said this project would involve incentives for households to sort their own waste and separate the recyclable materials. “We will try at first to give each house a small bin and later we will try to put certain bins for each kind of recyclables in each neighborhood,” he said.

When implementing the project, the ministry will conduct a public awareness campaign within the selected municipalities. This will be funded through a JD2.8 million grant provided by the German Corporation for International Cooperation.

Mhaidat hopes the project can also employ some of Jordan’s informal collectors. “They have been working in this field for a long time and we don’t want them to lose their jobs. So we want to regulate their work through our formal plan,” he said.

Prior to drafting the new strategy, action taken by the government to encourage recycling was limited, and will likely remain so until the pioneering strategy really starts to take off.

In the meantime, the government is carrying out some other smaller initiatives. According to Mohammad Khashashmeh, director of chemical waste management at the Ministry of Environment, this includes collection stations that have been set up in the northern parts of Jordan for the disposal of electronic waste, such as computers, televisions, and mobile phones. Plans are now underway to expand the scheme to Amman.

Raouf Dabbas, Senior Adviser to the Minister of Environment, and Ahmad al-Kofahi, Executive Director of JES










Hussain Mhaidat, Director of Local Councils at the Ministry of Municipalties, and Mohammad Khashashmeh, Director of Chemical Waste Management










In addition to this, tentative steps are being made to sort waste at the Ekedar and Ghabawi landfills via a mechanical conveyor belt. “The Ministry of the Environment is planning the mechanical segregation before dumping the waste to benefit from the recyclable material,” said Khashashmeh, adding that not only will this reduce the amount of waste going into the landfills, but it will also generate income.

However, this income will unlikely be large enough to cover the cost of the waste management programs for these landfills. Raouf Dabbas, senior adviser to the Minister of Environment, said that sorting landfill waste downstream is much less efficient than sorting it closer to its source. “It’s more cost effective if you do it upstream and the further upstream you go, the more effective it becomes. If you wait for the unsegregated waste to go all the way down to the landfill, by then it’s more expensive to segregate it,” he explained.

Mhaidat agrees. “First we should start from the source, especially from houses, universities, and schools. And if we can start with the separation at the source we will be able to reduce the amount of waste that will be sent directly to the landfills,” he said. According to the new strategy report, currently only 1 percent of recycled materials in Jordan are being sorted at their source.

Filling the void

In the absence of a government-led nationwide recycling program, a number of non-profit initiatives have emerged to fill the void. For example, waste management company BE Environmental Services established a household recycling center in 2012 at the Cozmo supermarket near Amman’s Seventh Circle.

Smaller educational recycling initiatives are also underway, such as a recent initiative called Dawerha, led by the Jordan Green Building Council and the Embassy of the Netherlands, in cooperation with the Queen Rania Al Abdullah Secondary School for Girls in Amman’s Abdoun district. As part of this pilot project, 20 recycling bins have been distributed to businesses and residences in the area and three large bins are located at the school for the collection of paper, plastic, metal, and old clothing.

The Jordan Environment Society (JES) is another example of the non-profit sector stepping up to the plate where the government has so far failed to do so. The group established its recycling program in 1995, and is probably the most comprehensive and longest running non-profit recycling initiative in Jordan. According to Ahmad al-Kofahi, executive director of JES, the program has over 200 collection centers in schools, offices, shopping centers, and embassies, and has employed out of work Jordanians to collect, sort, and then sell the recyclables to a recycling contractor.

While larger than Dawerha, the JES recycling program is still a small-scale pilot project and relies on support from the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM). “Without the reasonable in-kind support from GAM, the program will not be lasting and feasible,” said al-Kofahi, adding that they would like to expand their work further but that this would require more funding and the participation of private sector actors who have experience in managing waste and turning it into a profit.

These non-profit recycling programs are certainly valuable contributions to the cause of recycling in the Kingdom, but being on such a small-scale, the benefits gained are small in comparison to what a government-led nationwide recycling program could achieve.

The consensus appears to be that, in addition to being good for the environment, recyclables are a largely untapped resource in Jordan that have the potential to create a lot of economic growth and jobs if a nationwide program was implemented. “The country is strapped for resources. We haven’t got many and what we have is also very scarce. So it’s important to cut down on a lot of the costs that we must incur in importing these things: the metals, the aluminum, the glass, and the paper. So having a recycling system that is appropriate for Jordan is very advantageous,” said the Ministry of Environment’s Dabbas, who believes that between 40 and 60 percent of waste could be recycled. “In addition to impacting our environment, the refuse left over constitutes a large amount of our municipal waste. So it’s extra cost for the municipalities to take this waste and throw it away into the landfills, which are causing them to become full before their time.”

He added that municipalities spend more than 80 percent of their budget on waste management instead of using the waste as a source of income and job creation.

Mhaidat agrees. “If this sector was invested in and regulated well I think this would create many jobs and income would be very high,” he said. “I used to manage two landfills in the north of Jordan so I know how much benefit you can get from recyclables. It can be very profitable.”

In order for the new strategy to be a success all parties are also in agreement that new legislation is needed to provide the legal framework for implementing the strategy and to govern the relationships between all the stakeholders involved. “The most important measure by the government is the issuing of a new and modern law of waste and this should be supported by incentives to encourage residences to separate their waste in a proper way,” said al-Kofahi.

According to Dabbas, a law is especially important in order to attract the private sector—a move that is seen as an essential step for the recycling program. “There needs to be a legislation that is conducive for the private sector to come forward,” he said. “We’ve had many companies come and they’re interested in starting something up, but without the proper legislation there’s no guarantee for them that they would be able to get their money’s worth of a recycling plant if there’s no regulation in place.”

It’s clear that the government needs to draft the appropriate legislation quickly if it really is serious about implementing the recycling strategy. The strategy report itself warned that a further increase in population due to instability in the region could lead to the collapse of the plan, which is much needed and already well overdue.