Over the past few months EcoPeace Middle East and the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been collaborating on a joint project with the purpose of finding alternatives to agricultural plastic mulch in the Jordan Valley and to improve the operation and safety of a dumpsite in Deir Alla. These collaborations culminated in two publications titled “Operations and Safety Plan for Deir Allah Municipal Dumpsite” and “Effects of Plastics in Agriculture in The Jordan Valley: Utility, Impact, And Alternative Approaches”. A workshop was held on September 3rd at the Crowne Plaza – Amman, to officially release those publications to the public.
The workshop was an important opportunity for all the relevant stakeholders, both on-ground and in the central government, to discuss the applicability of the guidelines and recommendations put forth in the documents. The keynote speakers for the event were the Henry Constantine from the US Embassy, Christina Mercurio from the EPA and Yana Abu Taleb, Director of EcoPeace Jordan. Participants included senior representation from Ministry of Environment, the Jordan Valley Authority, local municipalities from the Jordan Valley, and farmers.
Plastic mulch is used in agriculture all around the world to decrease the evaporation of moisture in soil and to reduce the number of unwanted weeds that might pop up. Due to the fact that there is no recycling framework for it in the Jordan Valley, the only way to get rid of plastic mulch through burning. When burned, the mulch releases forty thousand times the amount of harmful gases and carcinogens into the air compared to diesel. Moreover, the mulch used in Jordan is very thin and tends to tear after one season, leading to its ingestion by grazing animals and to greater environmental pollution.
Alternatives such as organic mulch and thicker plastic mulch (that can be used for more than one season) do exist but they are not as cost effective. This creates a dilemma for the cash-strapped farmers of the Jordan Valley who recognize the negative impacts of their current actions, but are reluctant to change their tried and true methods because it will affect their financial situation. The farmers attending the workshop said that they would like to see realistic solutions that they can apply.
One of the suggestions proposed to solve the issue is to create a model farm that showcases the alternatives so that the farmers can see their effectiveness with their own eyes. Another suggestion was to give farmers a one-time subsidy to try out the organic mulch, in the hope that they would permanently switch to it. Also, some recommended creating incentives that would encourage farmers to collect the mulch and send it to factories where they may be recycled. It was decided that further meetings will need to take place to see if any or all of these suggestions are applicable.
The Deir Alla dumpsite presented a big challenge to the project team due its lack of resources and the experience at its disposal. Even though turning the dumpsite into a state-of-the-art landfill is currently impossible, the project team saw that the workers could implement many changes to improve the site. A few examples include controlling the type of waste entering the dumpsite, collecting data on the waste entering the site, and detailing the dangers and emergencies that might occur. In addition, the workers were provided with safety gear such as high visibility vests, gloves, boots and hardhats.
There is a lot of potential for the Deir Alla dumpsite to act as a model that other dumpsites in Jordan can reference to implement similar operational improvements. The site manager and workers are enthusiastic about the change to their work environment and they are devoted improving continuously improving the site. Furthermore, the guidelines will be reviewed periodically based on the feedback of the workers to see if any of them are not realistic or applicable.
EcoPeace would like to thank all the farmers, the dumpsite workers, the municipalities and the ministries for their involvement and for their excellent feedback. Also, EcoPeace would like to thank the US State Department and the US Embassy in Jordan for their support of the project and the workshop. There will be follow up on all the suggestions and comments given and there is a strong commitment from the stakeholders to encourage the environmentally friendly use of plastic mulch and assisting in the proper implementation of operational and safety measures in the Deir Alla dumpsite.
Contributed by: Fadi Kardan (former EcoPeace staff member)