Towards Zero Waste Initiative Jordan – Amal’s Story

Meet Amal J. Madanat, a Jordanian social and environmental activist. This is her personal 8-year (and counting) story with how she’s helping clean-up Jordan with her “Towards Zero Waste” initiative.

amal j madanat zero waste jordan

Zero Waste – It starts with yourself

In 2010, at 50 years old, Amal retired from work and decided it was time to put into action her childhood dream of seeing a clean Jordan. She firmly believes in the importance of each individual’s responsibility towards society (no matter the person’s age!). In addition to that, she is a strong supporter of using education to change the prevailing culture and the current inherited perspective on waste.

“I’ve always been in a state of sadness and used to blame the official authorities, I translated my dream into reality through starting with myself, and stopped blaming everyone else, problem is, I’m only one person, what effect can I have? What can I do with the enormous amount of garbage and this dominating culture? It’s true that I personally don’t litter in the streets, but at the same time I don’t sort out my waste into subcategories, and I realized then that this also pollutes the environment and people which leads to more harm than good.”

To begin, Amal started from her own home. She began reading about the impact of all the materials that she uses in her daily life, and through analyzing the items she herself throws in the garbage bin, she realized the harm of plastics used in food and drinks on health, the environment, and other organisms.

jordan land of trash
Jordan’s landscape is littered by trash, which will be ingested by livestock and other animals

Changing shopping habits

fruit vegetables in plastic supermarket jordan
Vegetables sold in plastic and styrofoam wrap in a supermarket in Amman

After she was aware of her own impact on the environment, she knew her shopping routine had to change. To do so, she began finding healthy and environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastics. She also started thinking twice before immediately throwing away items that were broken or she didn’t need anymore, opting to fix them or donate them instead. Her goal, simply put, was to live a new, zero-waste lifestyle.

Cleaning our surroundings

In addition to watching her own purchases and waste level at home, she also started picking up and collecting all kind of small pieces of plastic waste from streets and public areas, such as bottles caps, straws, ice-cream spoons, plastic bags and water bottles.

A formal zero-waste initiative (2011-2012)

Creating a formal zero-waste initiative in Jordan is not an easy task, as to this day the country still lacks an integral system of sorting waste at the source. Instead, the collection of recyclable materials is done by “waste pickers”, or as Amal calls them, “the invisible recycling experts of Jordan”.  These waste pickers are men and women, of all ages, and they have created an informal recycling sector in Jordan, working in extremely dangerous and unhealthy environments, collecting materials from streets, waste bins and landfills.

waste pickers amman jordan
A family of waste pickers in Jordan

Educating others

Amal’s first idea to create a zero-waste initiative was to educate her family, friends, and neighbors, but the results weren’t as impactful as she had expected. She soon realized that adults’ behaviors are not easily changed, so she decided to approach the school nearby her home to help educate the students about the importance of proper waste management. There she was lucky to get all the support and encouragement she hoped for by the Dahiyat Al Hussein School principal, Miss Aida Arar.

Positive changes begin with children – Dahiyat Al Hussein School

zero waste dahiyet al hussein school jordan

Amal began transferring her experience to the students, their mothers, and women from the neighborhood. Her new recycling disciples soon experienced the joy of interacting with their community, by helping a man who earns his living by collecting recycled material from garbage bins. His name was Adnan, nicknamed “Abu Ali”. The children soon began sorting their waste at home and bringing the recyclable materials to school to give to Abu Ali.

jordan towards zero waste

Abu Ali -2011

New design for recycling bins (2013)

In 2013, Amal designed some new bins for recyclable materials at Dahiyat Al Hussein School. She took into consideration that these bins had to be secure, easy to move, colorful and fun! These basketball hoop bins were produced by Aboura Co, pioneers of the metal scrap recycling industry in Jordan, as a sign of support to the initiative of the school “Toward Zero Waste”.

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Interactive waste exhibition (2014)

Considering the importance of continuing to spread awareness to achieve the noble goal of protecting our resources and environment, Amal launched the idea of creating an interactive, pedagogic environmental exhibition at Dahiyat Al Hussein School. Her idea became reality with the help of Syrian designer, Khalid Humsi, under the umbrella of the Green Generation Foundation, and financial support from an international entity supporting the ongoing environmental projects in Dahiyat al Hussein School.

Plastic waste exhibition jordan

The Exhibition includes:

  • Our Common-Planet Room: The exhibition contains murals, wall paintings, that talk about our planet, it’s past and present, before and after the industrial revolution, and the population explosion and Man role in increasing climate change and the greenhouse effect.
  • Mural of Plastic Waste Flood: A wall shows our horrible present caused by littering, where waste accumulates in our environment. All these murals have been made out of plastic waste collected from the streets. Plastic pollution is a global challenge – it affects our health, our earth, our sea, our food, our water and all the Creatures.
  • Green Knowledge Room: This room is meant to provide interactive training in resources and waste management, for the school, and for other schools’ students. It aims at changing the attitude and behavior of the new generation, so as to transfer the experience to their families and community.
  • Multimedia Room: Another element of the exhibition consists of a screen to show environmental films; and a library to be established, to offer all kinds of books magazines, and films.

Towards zero waste dahiyat al hussein school jordan

With Myself I Started (2015-2017)

with myself i started documentary jordan zero waste

With Myself I Started” is a humanitarian & environmental documentary film 2015-2017 that Amal prepared with the help of the Lebanese director Elie Nemri. The film narrates the way she began with herself, changing her own behavior, before applying her ideas to the community and in the school.

The film sheds the light on the littering phenomenon of garbage and its impact on cleaners and their suffering, in addition to the lack of a culture that promotes recycling of consumed material and how it affects a large segment of society who lives from sorting such items from street bins.

Watch the trailer here.

Future zero-waste initiatives

Amal’s future plan is to spread this personal experience in Resources and Waste Management, by visiting cities in the other governorates of Jordan, in company with the school principal Aida Arar, who recently retired.

Amal hopes that the Ministry of Education will adopt the strategy of “Zero Waste” through curricula using interactive activities, and by integrating children in their society. She hopes also that the Ministry of Environment will adopt this same strategy to make it a national one.

“I hope to transfer my personal experience, and the knowledge I have gained through knowing about other countries’ experiences, and benefiting from the experience of other active people in the domain of Resources and Waste Management, and from reading and participating in workshops and seminars dealing with this subject.”

A final message from Amal

“Please start with yourself, change your behavior, live a new healthy lifestyle, and with your own house and children, by knowing the basics of the “zero waste strategy”. Spread the word, for the sake of your children and your grandchildren. Redesign plastic stuff to eco-friendly ones “by law”, refuse plastic and simply say: No to any plastic products, to the single-use stuff, like straws, water bottles…, reduce plastic, reuse plastic, and at last if you have to use it, don’t you ever even think of throwing it away, recycle it please.”


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