Boosting Recycling, Scavenger Incomes in Jordan

recycling sorting table jordan photo

A sorting table set up by Entity Green Training, a Jordanian company that is developing the country's first real recycling program.

There are only two paper-recycling companies in Jordan and none recycling glass or PET plastics locally. But Anselm Ibing has a secret weapon in his efforts to boost recycling rates in this small Arab country: expat guilt.

"People feel so guilty about not being able to recycle. They tell me, 'I separate just because I'm used to it, then I close my eyes when the maid picks it all up and puts it in the bin,'" he says. "They'd do anything to relieve themselves of that guilt."

Ibing, an expatriate himself, studied water management at a German-Jordanian university and has been working as an environmental manager for the British Embassy in Amman, one of three pilot sites for a recycling program run by Entity Green Training (EGT), a pioneering Jordanian company that is working to improve and increase employment opportunities for the country’s rural poor and refugee communities, some of whom make their humble living scavenging through the trash for things that can be resold.

Students Help Develop Recycling Strategy
"Recycling activities [in Jordan] have been needs-driven, with people collecting materials in exchange for cash," say Andreas Petsas and Glen Walker, two upper-level engineering students from the University of Cambridge's Institute for Manufacturing who worked with EGT for two months to help the company develop its recycling strategy.

EGT had already established a pilot project for recycling at the Sheraton Hotel and the British and American Embassies in Amman and wanted to expand the program to create more jobs and income from recycling, particularly of PET waste, such as discarded plastic water bottles.

recycling british embassy jordan photo

The British Embassy in Amman has been a pilot site for EGT's recycling efforts.

"The recycling industry in Jordan is still fairly embryonic; while there are a few organizations involved in recycling in Amman, they tend to focus on paper, cardboard, and metal," the Cambridge students concluded after their two months of research. "There is a growing awareness of recycling and environmental issues, and some companies have been requesting recycling services from existing NGOs and environmental organizations... [and] demand for services is likely to increase."

Training New Recyclers
In order to help meet that anticipated need, EGT is training 70 men, many already engaged in what they refer to as "informal waste management," but is better known as scavenging, to increase their skills and access to markets while learning from the strategies the men have already developed for collecting and sorting waste.

"We don't want to cut the informal sector out of the equation; we just want to reduce the overall waste stream," Ibing says. "One of the things EGT wants to do is offer scavengers a better price, cut out the middlemen, and collect larger quantities that can be sold directly to recycling and re-manufacturing firms." Currently, there is a long chain of transactions between the scavengers, who feed their families on the equivalent of 100 to 150 euros a month, and the eventual buyers, who want larger quantities than any individual collector can provide.

The country's King Hussein Foundation has offered to give EGT some property near the Dead Sea where the company can establish a center to train more local recyclers to serve the large hotels in that area.

scavengers whdadad camp jordan photo

Incorporating scavengers into more formal recycling efforts is an important part of EGT's work.

Hotels in Jordan are an obvious target for expanding recycling programs, says Ibing, who estimates that the company can collect a total of 150 tons of recyclable waste a month from the Dead Sea lodging establishments. "International and European tour operators are pressuring or requiring them to have greener standards, so they are starting to add solar panels, to recycle gray water, things like that," he says.

The British Embassy was also an obvious starting point, for similar reasons -- the Home Office in London is trying to get its diplomatic missions around the world to reduce their carbon footprints. And international staff at embassies, like foreign visitors to hotels, are more likely to demand the availability of green services.

Boosting Environmental Awareness
Local interest in environmental issues is growing in Jordan, though, Ibing says, noting that large markets and some small stores are starting to carry organic products. "I've spent time in Syria and Egypt and awareness is much, much higher in Jordan. It's at a level where you can build something; you don't have to start from zero," he adds. "We just need to create financially viable solutions that make it worthwhile for people to get involved."

To that end, EGT is working to find export routes and foreign traders to process materials not currently recyclable in Jordan. It is trying to set up an assembly line with sorting, bailing, and shredding facilities to deal with larger quantities faster and more efficiently to enable it to open new accounts with multinationals. The company is also talking to local wine manufacturers to see if they would take bottles back for reuse if EGT provided a washing service. Pepsi also has a large production site in Jordan, but imports all its bottles from outside the country

Getting Households Involved
Increasing community involvement and getting private households to recycle is another goal, one that EGT hopes can be met by working with schools and supermarkets to provide centralized places for dropping off recyclable materials, educating children about recycling, and working with the maids who unpack the shopping bags for rich households.

"These people are the elite, but in many ways they are the people we need to work with; they are the biggest consumers and wasters," Ibing says.

Eventually, EGT hopes to reach residents of all social classes by establishing a series of EcoParks. These community spaces would have recycling bins and organic gardens and be places where people could bring their recyclables and compost to earn coupons that could be spent on fruit smoothies and organic food from the parks' cafes, or on toys, bags, drinking glasses and other products made by artists from recyclable materials and offered for sale at the same location.

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Boosting Recycling, Scavenger Incomes in Jordan
There are only two paper-recycling companies in Jordan and none recycling glass or PET plastics locally. But Anselm Ibing has a secret weapon in his efforts to boost recycling rates in this small Arab country: expat guilt.

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