The key challenge for sustainable development in the Jordan Valley is to strike the right developmental balance
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EcoPeace recently collaborated with the United States Environmental Protection Agency to develop two written products related to waste management in the Jordan Valley:
- Operations & Safety Plan – Deir Allah Municipal Dumpsite.
- Effects of Plastics in Agriculture in the Jordan Valley: Utility, Impact, and Alternative Approaches.
In addition to these documents, additional technical, educational and informational documents relating to waste management are provided below. These references are useful for central, regional and local government authorities, including municipalities, as well as community groups, schools and anyone who may be interested in improving solid waste management practices in Jordan.
OPERATIONS AND SAFETY PLAN At DEIR ALLAH MUNICIPAL DUMPSITE
In accordance with current laws, municipalities provide the following services:
- Sweeping and cleaning services (pre-collection). Local workers collect and store wastes in waste containers for collection vehicles. Sweeping services are provided only for main streets in towns and intersections during one 8-hour shift per day.
- MSW collection services (collection). Collection is carried out by many types of collection vehicles with different capacities of (4, 8, 16 m3). Currently, there is only one trailer (50 m3) used by Al-Shuna al- Wosta municipality for transferring waste from a transfer station to Deir Allah Dumpsite. The collection vehicles collect the waste via a random routing system that serves residential areas and main streets. In normal conditions, each vehicle performs 1-2 trips per day.
- Waste transfer. There is no transfer station in Deir Allah. Each trip to the dumpsite requires an average trip of 15 km. In Al-Shuna al-Wosta, collection vehicles dispose of MSW at a transfer station.
Next to Deir Allah Dumpsite, there is a non-functional composting plant. The plant was established and operated in Deir Allah District since 1997. The project started as a pilot for producing compost from animal manure. While the land is owned by Deir Allah Municipality, the plant was owned and operated by Fertile Valley Association, a non-government organization (NGO). The production capacity of this plant was about 35 tons/day. The cost of production of each ton ranged from 35 to 40 JD. The final compost products were targeted for local market throughout the Jordan valley and other farming activities in the highlands. The price of each ton varied due to the quality of produced compost as well as the requirements of the clients and ranged between 45-60 JD. The profit margin was around 15-20% for each ton of compost sold.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), funded by the United States Department of State,is assisting the Ministry of Environment of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Ministry of Environment) and the Municipality of Deir Allah (the Municipality) with the management of its current municipal solid waste (MSW) dumpsite. The Deir Allah Dumpsite does not have a lining system, monitoring, or other engineered measures to control adverse effects on the environment, public health or safety.
Deir Allah is an agricultural area with rugged topography in the east and a fertile agricultural plain reaching the Jordan River in the west. The area consists of rural communities where the people mainly work in agriculture, cultivation of fruits, vegetable production, sheep grazing and governmental and private works. Deir Allah town has an extended area of 242 km2 located in the province “Al-Balqa Governorate”. Deir Allah division has two separate municipalities; Deir Allah Municipality and Maadi Municipality, which serve more than 85,000 (63,000 in Deir Allah and 22,000 in Maadi residents (2018) in the region. The boundaries of Deir Allah are the Jordan River on the western and northern side, and the mountains and highlands on the eastern side.
The municipalities in Deir Allah are responsible for collecting municipal solid waste (MSW) on daily basis using their own vehicles/staff and transferring the collected waste to the Deir Allah Dumpsite located in southern Twal near Fannush village, about 15 km south of Deir Allah town. No medical or hazardous liquid waste can be dumped at the site.
The Deir Allah Dumpsite was constructed in 1998 on an area of 364 dunums for disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW). The nearest village is about 4 km far away. The Deir Allah Dumpsite is currently owned and managed by the Joint Services Council (JSC) under the umbrella of the Ministry of Local Administration. Since 1998, the site has been receiving waste from multiple areas in the Jordan Valley.
Effects of Plastics in Agriculture in the Jordan Valley
Utility, Impact, and Alternative Approaches
Another challenge presented by the use of plastic mulch film is awareness and access to proper disposal options. While recycling is the preferred method of disposal for plastic mulch, if this option is not available, landfilling is a better choice than incineration, open burning or illegal dumping. Currently, plastic mulch is typically burned on the farm site, illegally dumped, or left on fields to disintegrate. Open burning on-site releases a variety of harmful pollutants (e.g., hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, furans, heavy metals, nitrous oxide, methane, and others) into the air and across the farmland, which can be detrimental to humans, livestock and other wildlife. Leaving the plastic mulch to degrade into the field or illegal dumping through burying or disposing of plastic mulch into waterways contributes to plastic pollution of the surrounding environment in the Jordan Valley. Complicating factors for proper disposal include the current solid waste management and recycling infrastructure and capacity in country. Additional challenges to recycling of plastic mulch in Jordan include soil/dirt/vegetative contamination of the plastic mulch, disintegration of plastic after multiple growing cycles, and lack of interest in use of recovered plastic mulch in a degraded condition.
Currently, it is not feasible or practical to collect, clean, transport, market and utilize recovered plastic mulch in the manufacture of new products in the Jordan Valley. However, environmentally preferable alternatives to plastic mulch film should be considered, including biodegradable mulch (BDM) that is designed to be tilled into soil after use, as well as cornstarch or paper-based alternatives which naturally break down over time. Other organic options include compost, flax-wool, and chopped leaf litter. Such environmentally friendly alternatives not only reduce the burden of collection and disposal at the end of the growing season but may also offer cost-savings in some instances and are generally safer for human health and the environment.
The use of plastic mulch film in agricultural practices in the Jordan Valley provides numerous benefits when properly managed, however, improper use and disposal can lead to myriad unintended negative environmental, social, and economic impacts. Plastic use for agriculture began to proliferate Jordan in the early 1960s as a way to increase water use efficiency (WUE). Today, plastic mulch provides an opportunity for Jordanian farmers to increase crop production through the regulation of inconsistent growing climates due to extreme temperatures and inconsistent rainfall, particularly in arid regions. Plastic mulch increases soil temperature, keeps soil moist, and controls growth of weeds, contributing to an increase in usable farmland and water conservation efforts, higher crop yields, and potential for increased income-generation.
However, if not maintained and removed from the field(s) properly, degraded plastic, known as mulch residue, can infiltrate the soil or contaminate the surrounding environment. Mulch residue may impact soil structure, moisture retention, and microbial biomass, leading to decreased crop yields in the longer-term. For example, to increase efficiency, some farmers in Jordan use the same plastic mulch to grow two rounds of crops in one growing season; however, oftentimes, the mulch begins to lose its plasticity, break apart and degrade after the second use. Lingering plastic residue from practices like double-cropping may impact moisture and nutrient transport by physically blocking absorption of water and nutrients. Mulch residue could change soil properties in ways that impact the effectiveness of fertilizer or pesticides on crops and may result in leaching into groundwater supplies, negatively impacting human health. Another threat to human health is the potential for phthalates or other cancer-causing compounds to leach into the soil and groundwater, which could be absorbed by crops and enter the food supply. Additionally, deteriorated plastic may contaminate adjacent land or waterways like the Jordan River or Dead Sea, posing additional environmental and economic risks. Because the Jordan River is used extensively for irrigation, water containing microplastics may be used to irrigate fields and microscopic pieces of plastic could be returned to the fields and potentially enter the food supply. Additionally, in the Jordan Valley, many farmers rely on livestock, such as sheep or goats, as an additional source of income. Plastic residue can be easily ingested by livestock grazing in areas close to mulched fields, which can become impacted in the rumens (stomachs) and possibly cause death.
For BDM alternatives to be considered for adoption in Jordan, there must be additional steps taken to prove the performance and economic feasibility. While there currently is no local manufacturer of BDM in Jordan, there has been expressed interest by current manufacturers of plastic mulch to explore the possibility of producing BDM. Additionally, there has been expressed interest by the farming community to participate in pilot testing to compare the performance of BDM over plastic mulch due to the benefits to human health and the environment.
Alternatively, should BDM not prove to be a viable option for consideration, another option may include to explore the feasibility of formalized collection and incineration of plastic at a cement kiln in-country as an alternative fuel source.
It is imperative to increase general awareness of the effects of agricultural plastics in the Jordan Valley and the best practices in the selection, application, maintenance, removal and disposal of plastic mulch to lessen the negative impacts on the region. Additionally, further consideration of more environmentally friendly, biodegradable alternatives to plastic mulch requires ongoing discussion among key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Local Administration, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, representatives from local municipalities, the farming and manufacturing communities, and other non-governmental stakeholders, such as EcoPeace.