Recycling appears nonexistent in Jordan, at least in the developed-country sense of the practice, save for at select locations. But unconventional recycling is alive and well, and it’s easy for residents to contribute to and even facilitate the process by separating trash before tossing it into dumpsters.
Here’s a guide, with all my gratitude to Jordanian environmental activist Amal Madanat and trash workers (for lack of a more dignified term) Salah, Adnan, Mahmoud, and Abu Ali for their input. They are among Jordan’s thousands of invisible recyclers, and a full explanation of their work can be found after the guide, which was written with input from Amal.
What to separate from ordinary trash:
- Metal, such as food cans
- Aluminum, including soft drink cans, foil and disposable BBQ trays
- Heavy plastic (HDPE & PS) like bottle caps, household bottles (shampoo, body wash, cleaning fluids, laundry detergents, etc), yogurt containers/bottles. Lighter plastic (PET) from water bottles will not be taken but Madanat recommends separating them anyway.
- Paper, including newspapers
- De facto donations, such as clean used clothes, textiles like towels, bed sheets, etc, or appliances, even if broken
- Bread *in a separate bag*
The cleaner the materials, the better.
Where to put your recycling:
- Put these materials into a separate bag that is lightly colored enough to be translucent (so, NOT the black trash bags). If you prefer, you can also separate by material, i.e. a bag for metal, a bag for plastic, etc.
- Hang this bag on the outside of a dumpster. Trash workers can then more easily spot it and identify the contents, and from the interviews I’ve done, they do appreciate when these materials are not mixed in with the rest of the trash.
What won’t get recycled:
- Light plastic (PET), such as disposable water bottles
These materials are are of little monetary value to trash workers. However, the recycling center at the Cozmo near 7th Circle will accept cardboard and PET plastic in addition to the usual paper and plastic. They also take wood scraps, printer/copier toner cartridges, batteries, old bread, and used cooking oil.
My experience with recycling via trash workers is limited to Amman, but this how-to likely applies in other Jordanian cities where people sort through trash and resell their finds.
To learn about the impact of the economic downturn on these trash workers, you can listen to this radio story by Karl Morand and me. Through interviews with trash workers, we learned that their work is grueling at best, dangerous at worst.
One man said he had been not only punctured by used needles but also bitten by a poisonous snake while searching through dumpsters. Trash workers resell the scrap materials they find to factories or middlemen, who pay a pittance for them. The only predictable aspect of the income is that it’s consistently low, usually around $10 dollars a day and up to $30 on a good a day.
For further reading on the topic of trash, recycling, and trash workers, check out:
- Environmental Activist Amal, Amal Madanat’s Facebook page
- What the Garbageman Knows, by Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, October 14, 2014
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Informal Sector Recycling in Amman, Jordan, a paper by Ariel Royer