Communities Field Note

Communities Field Note

Abstract: Do you recycle? Recycling is when you take old materials and turn them into something new. That can mean turning old apple peels into compost or soda cans into aluminum to make new cans. Read about recycling and trash in Jordan – you may be surprised!  

How does Jordan handle waste management?

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Large dumpsters for trash

We are encouraged to recycle every day in the US. It is easy to find both a trashcan and a recycling bins on the street. We have competitions to see who can recycle the most or be the most green. Do you know what being green means? It means you are environmentally conscious. This can mean turning off the lights when you leave a room or printing double-sided to save paper. This Field Note focuses on one aspect of being green: waste management.

What happens to trash after it is thrown away? Waste management means all the ways in which people deal with trash. Jordan’s process of dealing with trash is very different from the process in the United States. Let’s walk through the process!

First, trash is thrown away. Most streets have giant trashcans to throw things in. They are on wheels, but most of them are broken and just sit in one area. Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s have the same trashcans that you find in the US and all houses have small trashcans. Since the bins are so small inside houses, they must be emptied frequently, sometimes more than once a day. Those bags of trash are then brought to the street where the giant trash bins are.

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Trash burning in the street

So we’ve thrown away our trash. Now what? In Jordan, there are two methods of dealing with trash. One method is burning it. The trash is either dumped on a patch of land near the road and set on fire or it is brought to a larger open area and then burned.

The second method is putting it in a landfill. This seems to be a more popular method to dealing with trash since you can get rid of large amounts of trash at the same time. A garbage truck comes to pick up the trash in the large trash bins and brings it out to the desert. From there, it is dumped into a large hole. Dirt and sand are added to make the trash sink down and become part of the earth. The goal is for the trash to decompose after a long time. The problem with this is that some things take a long time to break down, such a plastic bags.[1] Plastic bags are everywhere in Jordan. All the grocery stores use them. They are the only option for a bag when you go shopping. Luckily, you aren’t charged extra money like I am when I need a plastic bag at CVS in Washington, DC. However, plastic bags are tough on the environment.

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The only recycling bin I’ve seen in Jordan

What about recycling? Unfortunately, Jordan does not recycle. I talked with several locals about recycling and discovered that people do not recycle here. My friend Abdullah, who goes to the University of Jordan, said that people don’t recycle and many of them probably do not even know what recycling is. He noted that the foreigners who live in Amman probably recycle but they are the only people. I also asked one of my professors if Jordanians recycle, to which he replied that they bring the trash out to the desert. I haven’t seen any recycling bins when walking around Amman. The only place I saw one was in my study abroad program’s office.

I also was fortunate enough to speak with Soleimon Abasi, a Jordanian-American who worked for United Environmental Services, LLC, based in California. His company was working in conjunction with the city of Zarka, Jordan, to turn their solid waste into organic products and materials. His business plan, written in 2009, explained how the city of Zarka did not have any recycling facilities and how currently trash was deposited in one of the 20 landfills in Jordan. Unfortunately, I do not believe the company received enough money to start the recycling plant.

Currently, there is the Amman Solid Waste Management Project, which helps the waste problem in Amman, Jordan. It began in 2008 with a goal of finishing by June 30, 2014. Unfortunately, their progress as of December 14, 2012, was disappointing. They increased the amount of trash one of the landfills can hold from 6 million to 8 million tons of waste. However, their goal to “environmentally upgrade and expand the existing municipal solid waste landfill to meet the city’s disposal needs up to 2013 and generate electricity”[2] has made no progress. All of the waste is still being brought to a nearby landfill. Although Jordan is implementing projects to help with the solid waste problem, they still have a long way to go until they begin to recycle materials.

Fast Facts: 

Trash cans located on public streets: Yes

Individual homes recycle trash: No

Grocery stores charge money for plastic bags: No

Grocery items are heavily packaged with plastic: Yes

People drink tap water: No

[1] “Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment?” National Geographic.

[2] World Bank. Jo-Amman Solid Waste Management and Carbon Finance.

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