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International cooperation improves wastepickers' conditions, North-Eastern Jordan


Over the past few years, Jordan has experienced a rapid increase in its Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)  generation rate. In 2014, it was estimated that around 2.7 million tons of municipal solid waste were collected by the competent authorities. In comparison, the MSW collected in 2009 was only 1.9 million tons [1].

The disposal of MSW often occurs in open dumpsites – Jordan has 21 landfills of which 7 are closed sites and only 1 is a sanitary landfill. While the municipalities collecting the citizen’s daily waste cover approximately 90% and 70% or urban and rural areas respectively, they deliver the material to landfills with damaged equipment & vehicles and without sorting or recycling the waste beforehand [1,3]. While some solid waste recycling activities occur in Jordan, they are mostly pilot projects which have been set up by NGO’s and international organizations [1]. A 2018/2019 estimate suggests that only 6%-10% of MSW in Jordan is being recycled since there aren’t any large-scale MSW sorting and recycling systems in place [3].

These waste collection services and landfills operate under the national Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MOMA) and the respective municipalities at the local level as well as through designated Joint Service Councils (JSC) at the regional level. The Ministry of Environment (MOENV) is in charge of nation-wide planning, policy, legislative frameworks and the assessment of environmental performance of official disposal activities [5]. One of the obvious reasons behind the previously mentioned increase in MSW is related to the fact that Jordan’s population has increased from 5.8 to 6.7 million inhabitants over the aforementioned timespan (2009-2014). Much of this has to do with the influx of refugees as a result of the numerous conflicts in neighboring countries. According to the United Nations Development Programme, this added an additional 10% to Jordan’s population [2] and is estimated to have increased the country’s MSW with 0.5 million tons. Particularly the North-Eastern governorates of Jordan have experienced difficulties as the result of the inability to adequately deal with increased solid waste amounts [3]. Around 20% of Syrian refugees are said to be living in camps, but as much as 70% to 80% stay in urban centers such as Irbid, Mafraq, Zarqa and Amman [1,3]. The coupled trend of population increase and faltering municipal waste collection services is currently fueling a strong sense of dissatisfaction among Jordan’s civil society towards the authorities [3].

The informal recycling sector in Jordan 

But apart from civil dissatisfaction, much of the same factors have additionally resulted in the establishment of an informal waste recycling sector over the last 20 years [3]. Wastepickers play an important role when it comes to the physical reduction of disposed waste - they reduce the cost of formal MSW management since less money is spent on the collection and transport of waste-streams. A study conducted in 2010 observed the material quantities collected by 100 wastepickers during a working day and found that the quantities collected represented approximately 20% of the total waste generation in the area of the case study [4]. The vast majority of materials collected were soft drink cans (79%) and scrap metals (14%) [4].

Individual wastepickers, particularly in the poorer regions of Jordan, collect recyclable waste directly from collection containers in urban areas or at the official landfill sites [3]. The distinction between “landfill” and “street” wastepickers is notable in Jordan. This is because of the fact that JSC recycling contractors have shown interest in contracting wastepickers at landfill sites. In 2015, 30/35 and 15/30 wastepickers were contracted at the Al Huseyniyat (Mafraq) and Al Akaidir(Irbid and Mafraq) respectively [5]. The wastepickers receive a daily wage of 5 Jordan Dinars (~7 US Dollars: October 2019 exchange rate) but even if the contract by the JSC is official it does not result in any social security coverage or other benefits apart from some protective equipment [6].

Landfills in North-Eastern Jordan 

Given the Al Huseyniyat landfill’s proximity to the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees, Zaatari, the fact that Syrian refugees “illegally” use the landfill for informal recycling shouldn’t come as a surprise.  “We look for plastic, aluminum, metal, clothes – anything we can sell or keep, or sometimes eat,” [7] says Mohammed Ali, an Egyptian immigrant who manages a team of 15 wastepickers of which most are Syrians who live in Zaatari.

Interestingly, it seems that they earn more than the official wastepickers contracted by JSC; approximately 10 Jordanian Dinars (~14 US Dollars: October exchange rate) per day. Usually, the Syrian refugees who work in the informal sector don’t hold a Jordanian working permit and this is still largely the case even if national authorities are trying to ease the restrictions on employment for refugees [7].

The Al-Akaidir Landfill Project 

As a result, a number of organizations are seizing the opportunity to improve the environmental performance of Jordan’s waste management system. Specifically, with respect to landfills, MOMA in partnership with Global Affairs Canada and UNDP Jordan have launched a Waste Materials Recovery and Recycling standardized contract in 2017. This contract encourages informal and free-lance contractors to legalize the work of waste-pickers at 18 landfills and disposal sites. Private contractors have been invited to develop recycling and material recovery partnerships with the JSC units of MOMA [8]. “This is a first step; however, we have a long way to formalize the sector”, said Eng. Hussein Muhaidat, Head of the Irbid Municipal Committee, “this is a new start for contracting out the services of waste separation and recovery contractors at the landfills. We need to take into consideration the waste pickers’ labor rights and improve their working conditions while encouraging the informal sector to formalize, grow and expand to retain them and encourage public-private partnerships and investment as part of the national waste management strategy” [8]. Early 2018, the first result of the large-scale project was inaugurated; the first environmentally friendly sanitary cell at the Al-Akaidir landfill in Irbid. Canada contributed $15 million dollars to the project which is said to improve the lives and working conditions of wastepickers and increasing the waste collection and transfer from municipalities in Irbid and Mafraq [9]. The project ensures that wastepickers employed under the “project-contract” receive on-going trainings, protective gear, medical access and access to washing facilities. Furthermore, the UNDP is in charge of securing that the labour contracts protect wastepickers from exploitation and child labour [10]. The economic participation of women is also a pillar in the new landfill project; the composting facility will be managed and operated by women from the surrounding community [9].

Apart from the Al-Akaidir landfill, other landfills/dumpsites (Al Huseyniyat, Al Aghwar Al Shamaliyah and Al Badiah Shamaliya) still suffer from infrastructure and equipment shortages [5] while often not respecting the international standards in terms of health and environmental requirements [15].

Urban street wastepickers 

Unlike the wastepickers who were mostly working at landfills, wastepickers who scavenge urban streets are considered to be at the bottom of the value chain even if they play a pivotal role in the whole waste management system. This is because they segregate waste at their source, either households or firms. Usually, they work alone but non-Jordanian wastepickers are often seen to be working in teams [6,11]. While these street wastepickers are highly appreciated by scrap dealers and private recycling companies who buy the waste from them, the official municipal workers who work in solid waste management find them problematic because they spread waste our of bins and/or vandalize trash containers. Fortunately, this tension has thus far not escalated into something confrontational.

In Mafraq city, there are over 1000 street wastepickers, the vast majority of which are Syrian refugees. In contrast, Irbid is estimated to have around 100 wastepickers of which most are Jordanian. The nationality of wastepickers has important implications for their working hours: while Jordanian wastepickers are able to scavenge in broad daylight, Syrian refugee wastepickers do not and stop their activities when the police is active as a precautionary measure. As a result, Syrian wastepickers in Jordan are unable to recover as much quantities or sell directly to scrapyards. Instead, they collect the recyclable materials in their homes and sell it to a itinerant waste buyer [6]. Apart from that, both groups of street wastepickers in Jordan face limited availability of storage space and are vulnerable to fluctuations in the global prices of recylable materials [5].

In Amman however, the situation for street wastepickers is a bit direr. One of the recycling companies active in the capital indicated that it prefers to take large quantities of recylable materials from hotels and restaurants instead of coordinating with wastepickers [11]. In 2016, the Greater Amman Municipality spokesperson, Izzedin Shammout conveyed her belief wastepickers are no longer the most needy but people who have turned the collection of waste into an organised profession. She told the Jordan Times that “... [Wastepickers] dig out trash, tip over containers and leave waste lying across the street, which causes health and environmental hazards and clogs the streets' drainage systems” [16].  This is said to scare off potential investors in waste collection and recycling, Izzedin also said that efforts were made to offer Amman’s wastepickers jobs as street cleaners or scavengers at landfills, but since they refused to do so the municipality’s plan is to amending a new municipal law that draw strict penalties against “trash diggers” [16]. Whether or not this law is in force today, is unclear but the process of stigmatization is clearly in place.

On a positive note, Jordan’s Toward’s Zero Waste Initiative, launched by  Amal J. Madanat has a more positive, though limited in impact, story to share. The environmental activist started a formal zero-waste initiative in Amman by approaching the Dahiyat Al Hussein School and educating children about waste and recycling opportunities. Together with the students, their mothers and other women in the neighbourhood they helped Adnan, a wastepicker who earns his living from recycling [17].

But all in all, apart from some very small steps led by individual activists, concrete efforts by Jordanian authorities or local NGO’s to incorporate both local and immigrant street wastepickers into a legal framework which is economically attractive for them is strongly lacking in the urban centers of Jordan.

Waste management on the Zaatari refugee camp Regarding waste management, the situation in Jordan’s largest refugee camp, Zaatari is better. In 2017, the Zaatari refugee camp hosted approximately 80,000 Syrian refugees [14]. International NGO’s have installed a collection system consisting of 600 dumpsters throughout the camp. Currently, the camp works with a municipal solid waste contractor which retrieves this waste and brings it to the Al Ehsyniat dumpsite, approximately 20km east of Mafraq [1]. While this disposal site has enough space for at least the coming 10 years, it does not engage in any recycling activities [1].

Fortunately in 2017, the international NGO’s operating on Zaatari camp have launched a waste recycling project using the combined expertise of Syrians and Jordanians. The idea was very simple; families living at the camp would sort their waste at home while the refugees employed through the cash-for-work program would have to collect  and deliver the waste to transfer areas. In these transfer areas the waste is additionally sorted and processed. This waste is then sold to private companies who trade in re-usables and the profits gained from sale are reinvested back into the project [14].

Oxfam’s interim director, Nivedita Monga expressed that: “The project offers cash-for-work opportunities to around 200 refugees each month, providing a much-needed means of income and a sense of purpose for participating camp residents” [12]. Initially it was set up as a pilot project in 2015, where 1 of the 12 administrative districts managed to recycle 80 tonnes of material in 40 weeks. Apart from the participation and organization efforts by Oxfam, the project is also funded by Australian and German governments. Jasem Al Wrewir, a team leader in the projects expresses that ever since the project the amount of rubbish in the streets has drastically decreased [12]. According to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, up to mid-2017, approximately 9000 Syrian refugees and Jordanians were hired through the project for the collection and recycling of waste. Even if the exact composition of these workers is unknown, one can speculate that some informal wastepickers have been granted the opportunity to work in better conditions.

In sum, waste management in Jordan is making progress even if faced with stark increased in municipal solid waste due to the influx of Syrians seeking refugee from hostile situations. Landfills and refugee camps seem to be locations which have undergone the most progressive changes with respect to the formalization of formally informal wastepickers. Much of this progress is related to the level of international cooperation and investments on the landfills and in refugee camps. However, in urban centers the situation for wastepickers remains difficult, particularly for Syrian refugees since they have to make sure not to get caught engaging in illegal work. It seems, there are no large-scale mobilization efforts in these cities that aim to unionize and strengthen the voices of unheard urban wastepickers.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:International cooperation improves wastepickers' conditions, North-Eastern Jordan
State or province:Governorates of Irbid, Mafraq, Amman and Zarqa
Location of conflict:Urban centres of the North-Eastern governorates
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:Aluminum/Bauxite
Domestic municipal waste
Plastic, Textile
Rare metals
Recycled Metals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

There are two different ongoing projects regarding waste-management in North-Eastern Jordan:

1. The first one is the development and modernization of the Al-Akaidir landfill in the Irbid/Mafraq governorates. This project has employed several wastepickers under "project-contracts" and is funded by Canada's Global Affairs Department and coordinated/supervised by the United Nations Development Programme in conjunction with the National Government of Jordan

2. The second one is the continuation and full implementation of the Zaatari Refugee Camp recycling initiative. This initiative has established around 9000 cash-for-work contracts for both Jordanians and Syrian refugees. The project operates under the auspices of Oxfam and is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMK-GIZ) and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Level of Investment for the conflictive project15,500,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:9050
Start of the conflict:28/07/2012
Relevant government actors:Local
-Jordanian Ministry of Municipal Affairs
-Jordanian Regional Joint Service Councils
-Jordanian Ministry of Environment
-Municipal Comittees of Irbid, Mafraq, Amman and Zarqa

-Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMK-GIZ)
-Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
-Global Affairs Canada
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) from France - Aids with the sorting and recycling activities at the Zaatari Camp
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from United States of America - Ensures that the labour contracts provided to wastepickers at the Al-Akaidir Landfill fulfill standards
OXFAM International (OXFAM) from United Kingdom - Main actor involved in the waste-management project at the Zaatari Refugee Camp
Japanese Emergency NGO (JEN) from Japan - Aids with the sorting and recycling activities at the Zaatari Camp
Jordan Green Building Council (JGBC) from Jordan - Has provided an informative booklet on MSW in Jordan, addressing the need to formalize and integrate wastepickers
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Towards Zero Waste Initiative Jordan

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Shareholder/financial activism.


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Loss of livelihood


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The formalization of wastepickers whether at the Al-Akaidir Landfill or the Zaatari Refugee Camp can be considered as a success. However, the North-Eastern region of Jordan has 3 other large dumpsites that have not been subject to the same modernization process. One can assume that landfill wastepickers still labour at these dumpsites under circumstances that are far from optimal. They either hold very precarious labour contracts with recycling companies or the Joint Service Councils or no contract at all.

Furthermore, the urban centres in this region are still struggling with municipal solid waste management and approximately 1100 wastepickers operating in the cities of Irbid, Amman and Mafraq are still struggling to make ends meet in the face of police surpression and non-cooperative middle-men and recycling companies.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Solid waste composition analysis and recycling evaluation: Zaatari Syrian Refugees Camp, Jordan (Saidan et al., 03/2017)

[6] Solid Waste Value Chain Analysis. Irbid and Mafraq, Jordan (UNDP Jordan, 06/2016)

[14] Trash Talk Turning waste into work in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp (Oxfam Jordan, 08/2017)

[15] Solid Waste Management in Jordan (Aljaradin, 11/2014)

[5] Your Guide to Waste Management in Jordan (Jordan GBC & Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2016)

[7] Broken glass and needles: the waste pickers scraping a living at Jordan's landfills (Cuthbert, 08/2016)

[8] New Solid Waste Recovery and Recycling Contract Improves Livelihood of Waste Pickers in Jordanian Landfills (UN Jordan, 09/2017)

[9] Empowering women and protecting the environment through waste management (Government of Canada, 01/2018)

[11] Scavenging for a living in Jordan (Whitman, 12/2014)

[12] Refugees turn waste into work at Zaatari camp (Dupire, 10/2017)

[13] Cash for work: Job campaign gives people new opportunities (BMZ, Date Unknown)

[16] Trash scavenging scaring away waste management investors' (Namrouqa, 02/2016)

[17] Towards Zero Waste Initiative Jordan – Amal’s Story (My Amman Life, 04/2018)

The increase Jordanian population over the last 10 years has caused difficulties for the country’s waste management. International NGO's are providing the informal sector with better conditions but urban street wastepickers are still not fully recognized.

Meta information

Contributor:Chandni Dwarkasing - EnvJustice ICTA-UAB
Last update26/12/2019
Conflict ID:4857



Zaatari Camp Syrian (Tarling/Oxfam, 2016)

Muhammed Abu Najib Temeki, 48, a father of nine from Deraa in Syria, pushes a cart of recyclable waste towards an Oxfam recycling centre in Zaaatari refugee camp in Jordan

Al Akaider Landfill (Government of Canada, 2018)

Inauguration of Sanitary Cell at Al Akaider Landfill, Jordan

Scavenging Truck in Amman (Jordan Times, 2016)

A pickup truck carries items scavenged from garbage containers in Amman

Wastepicker Family Amman (2018)

A family of wastepickers in Amman, Jordan

Cash for Work Volunteer at Zaatari Camp (Buck/Oxfam, 2017)

A cash for work volunteer in Za’atari camp delivers materials to Oxfam’s recycling centre

Al Akaider Landfill (Government of Canada, 2018)

Inauguration of Sanitary Cell at Al Akaider Landfill, Jordan

Scavenging Truck in Amman (Jordan Times, 2016)

A pickup truck carries items scavenged from garbage containers in Amman

Zaatari Camp Syrian (Tarling/Oxfam, 2016)

Muhammed Abu Najib Temeki, 48, a father of nine from Deraa in Syria, pushes a cart of recyclable waste towards an Oxfam recycling centre in Zaaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Al Akaider Landfill (Government of Canada, 2018)

Inauguration of Sanitary Cell at Al Akaider Landfill, Jordan

Cash for Work Volunteer at Zaatari Camp (Buck/Oxfam, 2017)

A cash for work volunteer in Za’atari camp delivers materials to Oxfam’s recycling centre

Scavenging Truck in Amman (Jordan Times, 2016)

A pickup truck carries items scavenged from garbage containers in Amman

Wastepicker Family Amman (2018)

A family of wastepickers in Amman, Jordan

Cash for Work Volunteer at Zaatari Camp (Buck/Oxfam, 2017)

A cash for work volunteer in Za’atari camp delivers materials to Oxfam’s recycling centre

Zaatari Camp Syrian (Tarling/Oxfam, 2016)

Muhammed Abu Najib Temeki, 48, a father of nine from Deraa in Syria, pushes a cart of recyclable waste towards an Oxfam recycling centre in Zaaatari refugee camp in Jordan.