People, Circular Economy, Prosperity, Asia Pacific

Turning waste into an asset in Aqaba, Jordan

UN Environment | Apr 05, 2019

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This article was originally published by UN Environment and is republished with permission.

Jordan is facing increasing waste problems, with municipal solid waste rising from 2.6 million tonnes in 2014 to almost 3 million tonnes in 2017.

The nation is not alone in what remains a global problem. Despite recycling rates of over 50 per cent in countries such as Germany and South Korea, across the planet we throw out one third of the food we produce to rot alongside plastics, paper and metal that could be reused or recycled. All of this waste not only leads to depletion of the planet’s dwindling resources, but drives climate change, as landfills emit climate-warming methane.

In Jordan however, the seaside city of Aqaba is beginning to apply circular approaches through a reduction in waste, and conversion of unavoidable waste into an asset through job creation—building the business case for resource-efficient approaches and providing livelihoods to vulnerable communities.

The city, popular for its clear waters and coral reefs, discards 150 tonnes of solid waste per day, including that of restaurants and hotels. Supported by the European Union and UN Environment through the EU SWITCH Med Programme, the Association for Energy, Water and Environment in Jordan worked with 15 hotels and 17 restaurants to carry out a waste audit and find ways to reduce their impact.

High-end hotels such as the InterContinental Aqaba Resort, Movenpick Aqaba, Double Tree by Hilton and Kempinski Aqaba all got involved in the project.

“As a hotel, we benefited immensely from the project in that we understood how much waste we produce and what percentage is organic and solid,” says Adbulla Radaideh, Chief Engineer of the Intercontinental Aqaba resort. “We now have goals to minimize our production of waste.”

The project trained staff in waste management practices and prepared plans for participating businesses to cut waste to landfill by 25 per cent. The savings come from simple measures, such as revised menus and better food management, including ensuring short-dated products are used first and providing smaller buffet plates to avoid food waste, as well as recycling metals and plastics.

Now, the city is considering incentives to get more businesses involved. Currently, hotels pay a fixed tax for waste collection based on their built area. The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority is set to reduce collection fees for hotels that better manage their waste.

We have the possibility of applying a model of sustainable development in Aqaba that would ultimately serve everybody, be it the government or local community,” says Hotaf Yassein, Head of Green Economy Division of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority. “The hotels can benefit from the incentive and waste can be used as a fertilizer. It’s a win-win situation.”

The project is also providing livelihoods, with a special focus on women’s empowerment, by training the local community in upcycling (the process of transforming waste into more valuable commodities). Women from Aqaba and the surrounding area learned how to produce crafts from waste, such as candleholders from defective tins. This increases incomes and further reduces waste to landfill.

One of these women is Latifa Abdullah Mahameed. Latifa, 45, lost both her mother and brother in 2018 and needed to find a way to support her and her divorced sister. She now works on upcycling paper and fabric, and is passionate about learning new skills.

“We were able to have a meaningful job that enables us to contribute to saving the environment,” says Latifa.

The women are now renting premises to manufacture their products and sell them, including at a bazaar organized in a major hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

These may all be small beginnings, but the successes of the pilot project are set to go national through sharing lessons and institutionalizing good practices. The project developed a national solid waste management training programme, and the national government is on board.

“This will be an environment, economic and social project that will provide many jobs and, God willing, have positive effects on the ground,” says Ahmad Al Qatarneh, Secretary-General, Ministry of the Environment.

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