Jordan’s tech entrepreneurs take on mounting waste challenge

Throughout Jordan, residents are raising the alarm over informal dumpsites, where piles of household waste, construction debris, and other discarded materials are plaguing the outskirts of major cities. 

According to eyewitnesses across several governorates, the sight of garbage mounds has become a common occurrence in the Levant country, where a growing solid waste crisis is threatening the lives of its 11.9 million citizens.

“Jordan produces 2.7 million tonnes of solid municipal waste each year, and only seven percent is recycled, while a whopping 93 percent is buried or left to rot in the open,” says Ra’eda Al-Aawran, director of the solid waste management department at the Ministry of Local Administration.

The problem extends beyond the burgeoning informal sites in the countryside, as even Jordan’s official landfills have been described as “ticking time bombs.”

Out of 21 formal dumpsites, only Al-Ekaider and Al-Ghabawi Landfills are designed to minimise environmental and public health hazards. The rest comprise either unsanitary landfills, where garbage is buried, or open dumpsites, which lack proper containment protocols. 

“More than 480,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated daily by the 480 million people living in 23 MENA countries, but only 9% is recycled”

Jordan does not stand alone in the face of this mounting challenge, as more than 480,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated daily by the 480 million people living in 23 MENA countries, but only 9 percent is recycled. It is projected that by the year 2030, this number will rise to 580,000 tonnes. 

As the Jordanian government looks to put its National Solid Waste Strategy into effect, unhygienic and unsustainable dumpsites continue to pose grave risks to the country’s local communities and environment.

Now, Jordanian entrepreneurs are stepping up to mitigate these dangers.

Start-ups struggle but the lesson is learned

Outside of Tafilah, approximately 180 kilometres southwest of the Jordanian capital, the desert roads wind through mountainous hills dotted with scant vegetation, painting a scenic landscape that locals have long cherished.

This scenic backdrop, however, is now haunted by the inescapable stench of trash mounds strewing the mountainside.

“We saw the rising solid waste crisis in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we wanted to do something about it,” says Omar Al-Khomaysa, one of the founders of T-Cycle, a Jordanian recycling start-up that operates on a pay-per-service basis.

The start-up, founded in 2020, launched a mobile app that offered Talifah’s low-income households incentivised recycling services to tackle the governorate’s garbage crisis.

“In four years, the project has recycled more than 37,000 kilogrammes of solid waste”

Residents now had the choice to sell their sorted recyclables instead of dumping them into unsanitary landfills.

In four years, the project has recycled more than 37,000 kilogrammes of solid waste, paying around $25 per 10 kilogrammes, with about 13 schools, six banks, and 120 households in Talifah using the service.

“We also devised a points system, which grants regular users rewards like restaurant discounts, hotel stays, and entertainment perks, motivating them to stay active and engaged with the program while fostering community partnership,” says Al-Khomaysa. 

According to Al-Khomaysa, by snapping a photo of their waste, users can leverage the app’s unidirectional scanning technology, which helps them sort their waste and determine its recyclability.

T-Cycle’s algorithm then optimises garbage collection routes and schedules pickup appointments.

Once the waste reaches the facility, it undergoes a secondary sorting process before being sent to recycling chains through contracted suppliers.

While T-Cycle currently stands as Jordan’s only startup offering households the chance to sell their garbage for a fee, it is not the only one. 

The Green Jo used to make recycling accessible to the residents of Amman through their application. The waste management service bought waste directly from households and businesses and then transported it to recycling facilities.

It has helped 2,990 households sort and recycle their waste since 2020, but the startup stopped operating in 2023. 

Other initiatives such as Manwah Al-Mounayis’ Herfate Tahme Be’ati — which empowered impoverished Jordanian women to craft artisanal products from recycled solid waste — also could not compete.

“At first, we had the Royal Scientific Society’s support, which helped us provide tools and workspaces to train hundreds of women in sorting solid waste and using it to create handmade handicrafts,” Al-Mounayis says.

“We stopped after the pandemic because we were no longer able to cover rent price.”

According to Ghazi Al-Sharqawy, the co-founder of Samad — a startup that helps farmers turn organic waste into usable organic fertilizer for agriculture — the inability of several businesses to scale and their ultimate shutdown sent shockwaves across the ecosystem. 

“Several startups offered prices that did not match the entailed costs to quickly grow,” he tells The New Arab, “But as unfortunate as that is, the experiences taught us to always align our supply with demand.”

Founded in 2021, the startup offers 100 farmers across Jordan its services, which include personalized compost techniques based on the type of organic waste produced and crops planted.

“We mainly offer counselling services to farmers, guiding them in the process of composting organic waste into fertilizer. Samad tries to turn a profit through the sale of both the know-how and necessary tools for composting,” he says.

Growth is limited as waste grows

Because waste sorting is a limited practice in Jordan, plastics and other semi-permanent waste materials end up at dumpsites, leading to an annual waste growth rate of three percent

“Recycling could be the answer to the country’s growing garbage problem… recycling is deeply rooted in Jordanian culture”

Emissions from this accumulated waste exacerbate the country’s environmental challenges, according to Ghaida Salameh, the acting executive director of the Jordan Green Building Council.

“Recycling could be the answer to the country’s growing garbage problem,” she says. “I would argue that recycling is deeply rooted in Jordanian culture – candy boxes are transformed into yarn containers, and oil cans find new life as planters.”

But despite the urgent need for a solution, Jordan’s recycling sector is still grappling with several hurdles hindering its growth, Al-Aawran reveals. 

“There is no government aid for waste recycling, only for solid waste management, which is also minimal,” she says.

“The ministry relies on donors’ support to keep the sector alive. There is also limited market demand for recycling and a lack of awareness from the population — all of this is making things worse.” 

This article is published in collaboration with Egab

Shefa’a Qudah is an independent journalist based in Jordan who specialises in human rights and freedoms. She has previously worked with the International Journalists Network, Raseef22, My Kali, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, and others and has won awards for her human rights reports from Journalists for Human Rights and Tamkeen for Legal Aid

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