AMMAN — When Hussein Saaed, from Daraa, Syria, started working in the waste sorting facility in Mafraq, he was told that his job was “shameful”. Since then, he said a shift has taken place in the community: “(People) were afraid to work in this sector, but now they are competing to work here,” he told Jordan News on a visit to the Oxfam facility.
Abdullah Hulayhel, 19, who collects cardboard from Mafraq city streets for processing at the facility, explained that he too has noticed a difference in the last few months. While many people were initially shocked that he was working in recycling, Hulayhel said that this has changed: “the community has become more aware of looking after the environment.”Hulayhel added that, while the streets used to be full of cardboard waste, he and his colleagues are now competing to collect used boxes from the restaurants and supermarkets in the area. Because of this, he said, the streets in his neighborhood are now cleaner, and people are appreciating the benefits of the project.
“Since people have seen it with their own eyes, they have changed their minds one hundred and eighty degrees.”
The Mafraq sorting facility, which began operating in 2019, is one of a small number of recycling projects across the Kingdom. Established as part of Oxfam’s solid waste management program, the project aims to support the municipality with the dramatic increase in population following the civil war in Syria. Mafraq governorate is located on the border to Syria and hosts the second highest number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan.
According to data from UNHCR, the number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan increased from just under 3,000 in 2012 to roughly 600,000 in 2014. Of that number, over 160,000 Syrian refugees are residing in the Mafraq Governorate, with the population being split across Mafraq city and nearby Zaatari refugee camp.
This sudden increase in Mafraq’s population has put a strain on waste management infrastructure in the governorate over the last decade.
Mohammad Al-Riyahi, head of the Public Security Department at Um Al-Jimal municipality, told Jordan News that the waste they deal with in Mafraq has more than doubled since the increase in arrivals from Syria after 2012.
Al-Riyahi stated that before 2012, the municipality was handling “roughly 120 tonnes” of waste per day. Now, it deals with up to 300 tonnes per day across governorate. He added, “(Zaatari) camp alone produces roughly 35 tons (of waste) a day.”
Yasser Husban, engineer and manager at Al-Hussainat Landfill, agreed that pressures on waste management have increased both since the influx of Syrian refugees and due to the pandemic. “During the pandemic, people were confined to their homes, so more waste was being produced,” he said.
Husban added that the work of NGOs such as Oxfam has helped to relieve some of this burden: “(They have) helped us to solve the problem of solid waste and contributed to raising the standard of living for some families by providing employment.”
Over the past two years, Oxfam has been working in partnership with the municipality to address the increased demands on the waste management sector. “(This is) the first time in Jordan that someone works in recycling in a formalized way,” Bahaa Eddin Al-Qatanani, senior solid waste management project officer for Oxfam, told Jordan News.
The project processes used cardboard, plastic, and electronic waste and exports that waste to facilities both in Jordan and abroad for recycling. As well as having lifted some of the burden on the public waste management sector, the project focuses on providing work opportunities on a “cash for work” basis, Al-Qatanani stated. The facility also now employs equal numbers of men and women, according to Al-Qatanani.
Hajr, an employee at the sorting facility, told Jordan News that she feels very comfortable working in the project: “The community are encouraging us and are accepting this whether we are refugees or from here,” she said.
Hajr added, “When we first started (working here), people were surprised, but when they saw how the work was, they accepted it and encouraged it. Now other people are saying they wish they could come and work in the project.”
With the World Bank recording unemployment rates in Jordan at almost 25 percent, the waste project has provided much needed income to participants. Hyam AlKhaldi, a widow and mother of three children, told Jordan News that collecting cardboard for the facility has allowed her to better provide for her children, as well as to pay off her debts.
However, she is now halfway through her six-month contract, and does not know what she will do once she finishes: “I will have to search for more work,” she said. “I looked a lot (before I started the contract), but I didn’t find anything.”
Oxfam’s project itself has a limited time frame. With one year remaining and the possibility of extension for a further year beyond that, one of the exit strategy options is for the sorting facility to be taken under the control of the joint service council, which will require a transition period and a potential reduction in expenditures.
“We are studying multiple options,” Al-Riyahi said of this future transition period, adding that there may be a possibility of cooperation between the public and private sectors.
A national solid waste strategy is listed among the projects within the Ministry of Environment’s Strategic Plan for 2020-2022. The Ministry of Environment spokesperson was contacted by Jordan News regarding recycling and waste management strategies in the Kingdom but did not respond for comment.
For Abdullah Hulayhel, his first ever work experience has been a positive one. Having been previously unemployed, he stated that he will happily list the job with Oxfam on his CV. “This is work,” he said. “Today, tomorrow, after a hundred years it will become normal. There is nothing shameful about it.”