Environmental damage is an existing and prominent issue in society today. There are many environmental issues irrupting today — from air, litter, waste, and more. In a general sense, some of the environmental pollutions produced include an extraction of an estimated 55 billion tons of fossil energy, minerals, metals and biomass from the Earth and the world has already lost 80 percent of its forests and we’re continually losing them at a rate of 375 square km per day. In addition, There are around 5.25 trillion of plastic debris in the ocean, with around 269,000 tons floating on the surface while four billion microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.
Environmental damage is also a prominent problem within MENA. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries has crossed 150 million tons per annum.The world’s dependence on Middle East energy resources has caused the region to have some of the largest carbon footprints per capita worldwide. In Jordan, the per capita waste generation is 0.9 kg per day. Municipal waste in the country has steadily increased from 1.5 million tons in 2000 to about 2 million tons in 2012.
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Speakers: What are your experiences in trying to reduce environmental damage?
Basel Burgan is the president of an environmental activist NGO based in Amman, Jordan Jordanian Friends of Environment. Focusing on community empowerment activities that will encourage the developments of environmental efforts in Jordan. Basel talked about his experiences within JoFoE and some efforts to be taken in reducing environmental damages.
“My name is Basel Burgan, I am the president of Jordanian Friends of Environment. Some of the projects we’re doing in JoFoE include teaching women from various areas in Jordan to fix solar systems of houses or solar lanterns, basically, these women are illiterate. This month we have a training session to train 10 Beduin women on how to maintain solar systems from the region. We have another training session, bringing 10 women from all over Jordan to train them to become part of the project,” he said.
“Our ambition is to build a river center because we have around 10,000 USD to buy the land and we have the center that will allow us to bring women from all over the Arab world to create electronic component systems for solar systems. Another project is to teach women about beekeeping. We will mostly be working in the Jordan valley — around 20 women. They will be taught on how to take care of bees because simply in Jordan we produce only 20 percent of the honey we consume. So this is a smaller project in the mix of our big projects such as environmental photography, environmental calendar, environmental-friendly industry, and so forth. This is my line of work.
“I have also contested against the Jordanian Nuclear Project, unfortunately, we have some people in the government who think we need nuclear energy even though we have sunshine in December and January and they commissioned a Russian company to build a nuclear reactor that started in Aqaba to Mafraq to the east in Azraq.
“We have another project which is the Red Sea canal — which is moving Dead sea water to the Red sea water. The government said they wanted to bring the Dead sea to life which is pure bullshit.
“Environment in Jordan is suffering in the industry and when we’re talking about the environment, we’re not talking about littering, we have many issues, like pollution and water. One of my nightmares is the River Zarqa — which is the second largest river in Jordan which flows Zarqa to the Jordan valley — when I was a kid I used to drink from that river and I used to fish, I fished 13 kilograms of fish, but now I don’t dare put my finger inside it because it’s very polluted. It also ends up in King Talal dam and it ends up contaminating our produce. Two months ago we had a problem with our UAE, they decided to stop the dam because they found remains of pesticides. This is one of our problems in Jordan and what we’re trying to work on.
“So Jordan has many environmental problems. In Amman, there are a few efforts, but they are not implemented well, and of course our water — where the Jordan River is being taken by Israel — and of course River Zarqa and Aqaba, and eventually our lands and our green canopy’s, which is causing deforestations.”
Plastic Wars is a page that encourages recycling — via Facebook and YouTube — made by four 13 years old girls Farah Qub’a, Jana Zabaneh, Zaina Amro, and Tina Khreis. Their page and channel encourage people to recycle, reuse, and reduce through tips and community efforts. They talked about their personal experiences in trying to reduce litter in their country.
“We started by entering the competition of the Goethe institute, which was about reducing plastic waste in Jordan. In the beginning, we wanted to win, but then we started researching more about this issue and we wanted to go big or go home. We started by making a Facebook and a YouTube page, we started with bigger audiences and bigger page groups — the Facebook page is more for the older generation while the YouTube page is more targeted for kids,” Farah said.
“We went on a TV interview with Dr Khaled Ramadan to try to boost our page views and the number of people who interact and to help contribute to our cause,” Tina said.
“We also visited the Mayor of Amman to try to increase the recycling bin in Amman to reduce trash,” Zaina said.
“We saw how our society doesn’t really care about this. We should start with awareness and we wanted to reach more people so we went to the Ministry of Environment to talk about future plans — how they can change our conditions and why we should change it,” Farah said.
“We also visited other pioneers of recycling that has implemented recycling bins all over the hospital which helped to develop our idea,” Zaina said.
“We also designed these brochures which have small tips on reducing plastic waste, we distribute them in supermarkets and public places,” Tina said.
“We also got two recycling bins which we put in our school to recycle plastic waste and we go to Cozmo recycling center to recycle them,” Zaina said.
“Then we also went to public schools next to us and we started teaching kids on how to reduce litter and get rid of their plastic waste because not many people know about it and then we started coming to Cozmo a lot so they asked us what we were doing and we told them about our projects,” Farah said.
“Now we’re talking about reducing plastic waste but then we’re going to focus as well on some main problems that happen here.
“We also always use our brochures. They pretty much have alternatives on how to reduce plastic waste. After we finished the project, we found out we got first place in the competition, but that wasn’t our main goal, our goal was to change — which we did. So after all of this, we will continue our initiatives in trying to solve the problems in our society such as poverty and other social problems, and we will give tips in how to reduce these problems.”
“We were also interviewed by the newspaper and we gave them some tips on how to help solve this problem,” Tina said.
“We also went to the town of Sahab and they recycled waste into boxes,” Zaina said.
“We use these boxes as alternatives for plastic bags that we put our food and vegetables in because the plastic bags produce toxic,” Farah said.
“And these are some of the cups we drank in and we turned it into a lamp,” Zaina said.
“We stopped using these plastic bags and started using paper or cloth bags because you can reuse them all the time,” Farah said.
Floor Discussion: how can we reduce environmental damage in our everyday lives?
Q1: On a personal level, how are you doing what you are doing to reduce environmental damage in your daily lives and how do you think we as people can gain better environmental habits?
A1: Basically, I have a private company and we’ve been doing recycling for the past 15 years but in my NGO business I try to recycle in Zaatari camp. As we all know, the Syrian refugee crisis has affected our national resources, government resources, and our capacities. I’m also starting a business for myself in my hometown in Karak for recycling.
I believe in human beings, and each one of you can do a lot, you can write proposals, you can lecture, approach schools, you can talk in neighborhoods to ask and have a talk about environmental issues, the issues just do it, do it and things will get done.
A2: Doing this project made us more aware of the problem and when we went to the mayor of Amman, we asked him to increase the prices of plastic bags and with the green bags — which only cost 0.5 JD — and people don’t want to pay extra 0.5 JD for the free lane, because people are too lazy.
We went to the Ministry of Environment about cleaning Amman, the event wasn’t as successful as they thought it would be because people didn’t come.
Our goal is to make a change but it’s hard because not many people are aware.
Q2: You classmates, friends, and the people around you, how are they reacting to your efforts in this?
A1: Our school helped us a lot in supporting us, but sometimes you do find papers in the plastic bin because people just don’t listen. We went and talked to the municipalities in Amman and they said they were seeing changes and excited but sometimes it’s just hard. With my experience, when we were in the car, we stopped because there was traffic and then the car in front of use just started dumping all their trash out the window, this was because they’re not aware, people don’t know why they should reduce waste, so I think raising awareness about this is very important.
We brought some recycling boxes in our classroom and ask them to collect recycling and then do DIYs.
Our classmates have helped a lot and every week they try to participate in our efforts.
Q3: I was wondering how you got people to stop using plastic?
A1: We didn’t convince anyone, we started by encouraging our classmates to help recycle by saying that if they help we’ll give them candy or something.
We also made an assembly at our schools and educate them about plastic bags and its impacts.
At our assembly, we also showed them pictures of dead animals that have decay with plastic in them at it shows; it’s very sad.
We also held a contest for those to recycle and the winners would get approval for the best class or something.
A2: Something we need to know about plastic is that 90 percent of sheep’s deaths in Jordan is because of plastic bags. So the sheep dies because they have plastic bags lodged inside of their stomachs. Even in Europe and US, and other western countries, enforcement is a very important issue and it should be done in schools. So I think you girls need to implement an environmental police. When I went to school in the US, the fine for littering was for $35 and now the fine is $1,000. If you don’t have penalties and enforcement then it won’t work.
Plastic is a very important product, as you know it comes from oil so heating plastic in high heat without burning it gives you oil, meaning it gives you fuel — which is very important. This is another project I’m doing at the city of Salt and it is much cheaper than what our government is doing.
Q3: Why do you think it’s so hard for us to change our environmental habits?
A1: People are lazy, so I think if — like you said — if we do have penalties, it will actually help. I think that’s the only way, if we have penalties then people would worry more about recycling and maybe add more recycling bins on the street. There are a lot of people I feel that would recycle more if there were more bins on the street.
A2: There are some countries where you put plastic or a cap in a machine you will receive money.
A3: I think it’s because it’s based on the responsibilities that humans have, we focus too much on our abilities to solve our issues, we are not really relying on the government or someone else to take care of us and we create this feeling of responsibility.
A4: In my experience, when I was back in my home country in Algeria, they wouldn’t organize their trash, they would just put the bags all in one trash or one bag, it’s because nobody was aware of separating all these waste. The government got tired of that so what they did were, they implemented a law for it and people started revolting aginst it because they didn’t understand. Then the government started to educate the people and raise awareness and when they did understand, everybody started putting trash in its proper places.
So what I’m trying to say, it’s not about spreading awareness about the concerns about the environment, it’s about education for the whole generation. In some societies, they don’t see the environment as a real problem, but if we do live in societies where they do see that it is important and they’ll own up to it, so it’s about the education.
A5: For me, I come from Germany and we do a lot of recycling but we have a big issue with coffee cups because it’s just such a lifestyle, so it just happened when people tried to change their lifestyles, people started offering things like glass cups and it just became a big trend and lifestyle, so it’s not only about making change but also making it desirable.
A6: Just on a general note, I think for people to care, there needs to be an enabling environment. For example, in Jordan it’s very difficult for people to change your habit, people have so much going on already and they don’t have time, so a lot of efforts do need to come down from the top-down structure as well.
A7: I also agree that the problem will be solved only by education. For example, for the older generation, I think there needs to be more education on the importance of this and for more people in the present, there needs to be a way to make it very easy for them or trendy, I think there’s no point about lecturing people — because people are lazy — so there needs to be a sanction. Because people are not that interested in motivational values, rather than materialistic things.
A8: I think it’s also important to remember that we’re talking about trash and the environment is not only about trash. For example, in agriculture, the government came and destroyed the water hole and turns out the water hole was filled with hormones. And we also use pesticides and the use of sewage water or polluted water in irrigation. We have many environmental issues, one of them is littering, one of them is trash; one of the solutions from our NGO was by trying to make it cool for children, so we sent a letter to the Ministry of Education and we asked them to send the letter to all 4,500 schools in Jordan the letter addresses some topic about the environment and this letter is sent to the teachers of the school and they will discuss with the children ages eight to 14 to produce some drawings about the topic. They submit around 13 drawings and we used it to make an environmental calendar which we distribute to the ministries and so forth.
Another project that was trendy was to have children aged 14 to 17 in high schools, to ask them to take pictures of environmental issues, and from the pictures, we pick 25 and printed them and held an exhibition. We also asked the schools to discuss these problems and have the newspaper publish it.
A9: I think media is so important, it;s the way people communicate these days and I think if we just make an animation movie about environmental solution and somehow touch people’s hearts. Maybe it’s a better solution for people to understand more about the situation.
A10: Some people from our competition did think of that, and it was about recycling in general and they had people use the #plasticisfantastic and they boosted it and became a trending topic.
Q4: What got you guys started or motivated in environmental work right now?
A1: The competition, but then when we started researching more and realized that it wasn’t a joke, we started wanting to do more to help the environment.
A2: My start was with my nightmare, River Zarqa, I used to drink from it and there were many fishes in it and when I came back from my studies, I saw how polluted it became and also how polluted Jordan was in general.
Q5: Why do you think there’s such a difference between the your efforts in the environment and other people and what should we do about it? — does it always have to revolve around efforts of threatening people or a reward system?
A1: Trends, as we said, trends is a big thing because people who do not catch up with trends usually have an obligation to catch up with them.
A2: I think innovation is also important, if you keep researching and innovating and find more ways to be environmentally friendly. For example, the example you have about paper bags, it’s great but not very practical, but I have a bag that’s reusable and I usually carry around because when I do grocery shopping it’s usually unplanned so it’s always good to have it ready with you.
These little things, I think we need to think more about it and learn to help people in very simple ways.
A3: I think another thing we can think about it instead of taking of trash as just trash, we can think of so much more resources as well. For example, when you buy clothes from H&M instead, it may cost more but it’ll last longer so learning to reduce the amount of waste you produce is also an important thing.
Q6: I think another question we can ask is whether people actually care about the environment? Do you think people actually care about the environment?
A1: I think more people care more about money than they do the environment. So maybe if we can find a way for people to connect with money, then this is the real question, how can we do things to try and get people to recycle and have their money’s worth? For example, if we can recycle plastic that can be used to produce something that people can buy.
A2: I think you’re talking about two different things, because there is a huge community of people who depend on trash, you never see metal in trash because collectors collect them, their prices are the highest, then comes alluminum at 700JD, then plastic at 300JD, and then paper at 60JD, unfortunately nobody recycles glass. The majority of people or industries unfortunately goes out of Jordan there are around 3000 tons going to India for paper.
For plastic, all type of plastics are collected at once, it is not seperated, so you would see plastic with oil containers — which should be seperated.
There are a huge communities of people who depend on recycables, but the people we should focus on are the people on the street who buy shawerma and McDonalds, who dump their wrappers on the streets and people who throw trash out their window. Now money incentives, I believe that it is impossible for these people. Enforcement is very important and I believe in high penalties, so if we put 100JD, that will be great.
Brainstorm: sutainable efforts in reducing environmental damages on a daily basis
“The first thing we thought about was to force people to recycle, we need to force people to seperate the trash or else the government won’t come to collect the trash. We can just make it official, like with traffic tickets and car tickets,”
“The second one is to encourage peple to plant tress, I think it’s something we always do but it’s something we can encourage more, through art and through networking, for example, we can mix art and business networking with planting trees, because a lot of people like networking — either for business or arts — at the same time we can help the environment.
“The third one is reusable shopping bags — trendy ones; we can start with celebrities and people who are effective on social media and we can pay them to use these reusable bags and make it a trend.
“Enforce a penalty and make people pay if they litter.
“Then the fifth one is make people feel guilty about it through social media, maybe through animation movies or making a sarcastic page about it.
“Then innovative ways to shower. So you would have light sensors, so if you use to much water the light will turn red and it will turn off when you’re away from it.
“We’re going to create this day where nobody will use their car but either walk to work or take the bike.
“Encourage artists to use recyclables for DIYs.“
Q1: Your ideas seem to revolve more around trends — trends seem to come and go easily — do you see it as sustainable?
A1: There are some things that are bigger than the one day bicycle day. We know that the feuls for car cause pollution but if we can go just at least short distances by walking or riding bicycles and making people feel guilty, they’re constant reminders, which we’re hoping will remind them to take the right steps.
A2: Your day without cars, we did it in France and it was a big mess, you really need a big organization or from the government to really implement it.
A3: In countries in Europe, they would set up a specific area in this town where cars are not allowed, so the road would be made of glass so only by foot or by bicycles are allowed to pass. It’s a good idea, but it might end up a huge mess. I think we should start it on a small scale first and take it slowly.
“We tried to tackle all the environmental issues, so first is the waste, we thought it would good for people to make their own compost like maybe put it on your rooftop and it will encourage people to grow their own garden,”
“Then we thought about reusing your carton cup, so if you put the carton cup in a glass cup you won’t forget about it and you can use it.
“And for the coffee shops you can bring your own cups or if you own a restaurant maybe give a discount for those that bring their own cups.
“Also we have the same idea about networking where you try to encourage people to recycle by networking with your community.
“Water that we consume in our houses we can put a water bottle inside our toilet because it will reduce the amount of water consumed by our toilets which will reduce 20 to 30 percent of water. And if we put a device on your faucet it will reduce the amount of water flowing.