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Jordan's battle against plastic bags: A call to action for a sustainable future

Mar 25,2023 - Last updated at Mar 26,2023

In recent years, the world has awakened to the devastating environmental impact of single-use plastics, particularly plastic bags. These seemingly innocuous items have wreaked havoc on ecosystems, choked waterways and contributed to the overwhelming plastic pollution crisis.

As a nation committed to environmental stewardship, Jordan has taken steps to address this issue. However, despite some progress, much remains to be done.

Jordan has taken some commendable steps in tackling plastic pollution. In 2017, the Ministry of Environment introduced a new regulation that sought to limit the use of plastic bags by imposing fees on their distribution. Despite this initiative, plastic bags continue to be used widely across the country, with over three billion bags consumed per year in Jordan, and according to estimates by the Ministry of Environment.

According to the ministry, there are around 250 licensed factories for producing plastic bags in Jordan and there are 500 unlicensed factories involved in the production of plastic bags, employing hundreds — if not thousands — of people.

As Jordan strives to reduce plastic bag use and its associated environmental impact, it must also address the potential economic repercussions on those employed in the plastic bag industry.

In this regard, a gradual transition is a key, including a phased approach to eliminating plastic bags which can provide time for affected workers to adapt. By gradually increasing fees on plastic bags, the government can encourage consumers to opt for sustainable alternatives while allowing the industry to adjust accordingly.

It is of paramount importance to encourage alternative production: The government could offer incentives to plastic bag manufacturers to switch their production lines to more eco-friendly alternatives, such as reusable cloth bags or biodegradable bags. This could preserve jobs while moving towards more sustainable products.

Introducing retraining and skill development programmes is also key, through providing factory workers with access to training programmes and educational opportunities to develop new skills. This could enable them to transition to other industries or to pursue careers in the growing renewable energy and sustainability sectors.

The extensive use of plastic bags in Jordan poses significant threats to the environment. When plastic bags are improperly disposed of, they often end up in landfills or find their way into the seas, where they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

In the process, they release toxic chemicals, endanger marine life and contribute to the ever-growing plastic pollution crisis.

Moreover, plastic bags are produced from non-renewable resources, such as petroleum, which exacerbates our reliance on fossil fuels and accelerates climate change.

Organic waste constitutes approximately 50 per cent of the total waste volume, while the plastic recyclables constitute 16 per cent, paper waste 15 per cent and metal waste is 2 per cent, according to the ministry.

Barriers to successful implementation of national efforts in this regard include lack of public awareness, as many Jordanians may not be fully aware of the environmental consequences of plastic bag use and disposal. Without a thorough understanding of the issue, it can be challenging for consumers to appreciate the importance of transitioning to more sustainable alternatives.

Waste management remains an issue with millions of plastic bags being used daily in Jordan, waste management facilities struggle to handle the sheer volume of plastic waste.

This excess waste often ends up in overflowing landfills, where it can take hundreds of years to decompose.

A report by EcoMENA, a regional environmental organisation, estimates that solid waste in Jordan reached 2.1 million tonnes in 2021, with about 20 per cent of it being plastic waste. This highlights the significant contribution of plastic to overall waste generation in the country. A World Bank report  in 2018 titled “Municipal Solid Waste Management in Jordan: Opportunities for the Private Sector”, stated that the municipal solid waste generation in Jordan is approximately 1.1 kilogrammes per capita per day, with around 18 per cent of the waste being plastic.

These also include insufficient enforcement as although the 2017 regulation imposed fees on plastic bags, lax enforcement has limited its effectiveness. Retailers may continue to distribute plastic bags without facing penalties, and consumers may not be deterred by the minimal fees.

In addition, the limited availability of alternatives as affordable and accessible alternatives to plastic bags, such as reusable cloth bags or biodegradable bags, may not be readily available.

Thus far, there have been a plethora of obstacles to the Jordanian government’s efforts towards an effective waste management system in the Kingdom. As the government’s progress has not yet produced the desired results, it is of paramount importance to ensure that regulations are enforced and proper alternatives are plentiful, coupled with increased public awareness of the severity of the issue, drawing on the collective social conscience. 

The writer is editor-in-chief of The Jordan Times and regularly writes for international media outlets.

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