Dear members of Clean Up Jordan,
I grew up in a very rural area in America where Smoky the Bear and Woodsy the Owl were introduced to children on television, on road signs, and in school programs. No one in that era could forget the saying “Give a hoot, Don’t Pollute” One school day every year we went on a litter pick up day. Each grade would go to a different area, on sides of roads armed with plastic gloves and large trash bags to pick up trash. The higher grades would pick up old appliances and larger items at dump sites that occasionally would pop up. The local newspapers would post stories on the children’s efforts. That very visual result and our hard work made us appreciate the need for visible garbage cans and a system of emptying them.
In Jordan, this problem is so big because it is ingrained in everyone’s mind that littering is okay. I have even heard the argument that if they stop littering, those men in their orange jumpsuits will be out of a job! The first time I sat in the backseat of my sister in law’s car and saw my nephew unroll the window and toss out a wrapper so blatantly in front of me I gasped. I told him he shouldn’t do that. He should leave it in the car until they leave and find a trash can to put it in. He was just as shocked with my comment. He had never heard of this before. Later, while driving with my mother in law, I noticed that she did this on a regular basis as well. This was fifteen years ago, and I was not in a position to tell my mother in law what to do.
After living years in America, my husband started to appreciate the system in place and the lack of littering. Littering in America is taboo, much like swearing or stealing. It isn’t something you necessarily want people to know you do. If you litter, you look around and make sure no one sees you. That and those big signs along the highway stating that you will be fined if caught.
One of the biggest complaints I have is the lack of trash cans in public places. You may find them but they are small, and somewhat camouflaged. Yesterday, I took my children to a park in Jabal Amman. A small park with two swings and two slides. We brought along with us a juice for each and a candy treat. I always carry a bag to put our things, including what trash we might make. After drinking half of his juice, my son decided not to use the straw. I didn’t want to put this sticky straw in with our other things and after not seeing a trash can my son asked if he could put it on the ground. I looked around and saw way over at the entrance a small can attached to the front gate and walked all the way over to get rid of it. This is not something that should be asked of people. Put the trash cans where they are needed. And the new job will be people going around emptying trash cans, not picking up wrappers and discarded food on the ground.
There is no class division when it comes to littering. For instance, Abdoun is a neighborhood with most certainly the nicest homes in Amman. I take my family to get shawarma in the only shawarma place in Abdoun and would rather get it for take away because of the trash on the sidewalk and streets just feet from me. My husband was the first to point this out to me. These West Ammani women would much rather walk down the streets in their heels dodging litter than have trash in their cars. My husband, being from here, will publicly humiliate anyone he sees littering and lecture them until they pick up their trash and take it to a garbage can. But this lecture is so misunderstood, and if it weren’t for the fact that he is a big man with an imposing (but not mean) personality they would just ignore the whole issue.
I am going to post this letter as my blog for the day, to try to get the message out there about littering. Feel free to use this in any manner necessary to get things moving in the right direction. I would definitely help implement any positive change in this matter. I have experience in graphic design and am very good at wording when it comes to English. I would volunteer my services and work with someone who can provide me the Arabic. I truly think this is something that with the support of the royal family could be a positive change in the country. Imagine if the King’s children would promote a cleaner country. Kids could probably relate to that.
I welcome all comments from readers from whatever their country and situation on pollution. It would be interesting to know how pollution is dealt with around the globe.
Clean Up Jordan is a group on facebook for people trying to address this very situation.
The following is the description of the group and its purpose:
Jordan, is an extraordinary country, known around the world for her historic treasures. The Jordanian people are equally revered for their Beduin rooted kindness and hospitality. Which leads me to wonder why the Jordanian people would allow their country to become covered with trash. The blanket of trash, which has multiplied exponentially over the last ten years now covers roadways and hillsides from Amman to Petra. It is both an appalling and truly example of both carelessness and lack of propriety from the littering few who cause immeasurable effects to the environment, tourism and even public health.
Counting the number of Mercedes, Porsche and BMW’s on the road there is little doubt that Jordan, is an image conscious country. Yet, the first image projected to most foreigners is one of great internal and external conflict. Driving into Amman from the airport, most tourist’s are greeted with a roadside covered in trash. Sadly, this is only the beginning. A short distance outside of Amman and a major historical site for many Christians and Muslims, the drive to Mt. Nebo would lead some to believe they were headed to a land fill with litter, and non-biodegradable material such as ugly black plastic bags which obscure the beautiful landscape and farmland throughout the drive out to Madaba. Once passing through the gate the pathway and site are clean, yet the beautiful countryside surrounding has become laden with filth. Not only is this damaging to the environment, but would be tourists/hikers are at risk of bodily harm from broken glass and rusty cans, not to mention their image of the Kingdom.
While Mt. Nebo is frequented by Christians, Petra is a site known the world over, with most tourists placing it at the top of their must see list for the entire region. Yet even Petra is not exempt. On a recent trip just after rounding the corner of the Treasury I was met with a trash dumpster which had been left to vomit its contents over the sandy pathway. My guests, horrified, took photographs of the mounds of trash along the otherwise immaculately kept pathway. Showing their photos to family and friends upon their return the beautiful photographs of colored rock, Nebatian troves and Beduin merchants are laced with photos of not only this first dumpster but several others passed along the way. Ironically, they found the montage of trash as leaves a sad and regrettable image of the beautiful Petra revered the world over.
If Jordan is to continue to use her natural resources, both human and physical to draw tourists, they must work in unison to present an image Jordanians are proud of. One where it is possible to drive more than 5km outside of Amman without doing a roadside anthropological study of what not all, but some Jordanians are consuming. Jordanians must start caring about their image as a nation, one which extends beyond their immaculately kept home’s front door!
For any clean up effort to be effective, it must focus on collaboration, specifically public-private partnerships including; the Ministries of Education, Higher Education, Environment, Tourism, Agriculture, Industry, Information and all education institutions and NGO’s. Lack of collaboration is what has allowed the situation to reach it’s presently alarming level. For any changes to be sustainable, an all out effort must be made not only to clean up the present mess, but to educate people about the effects of the burden they are placing on the environment. In addition, it is imperative to establish more vigorous enforcement mechanisms and penalties for violators. These elements should ideally be combined with a systemic integration into the national education curriculum, where there remains a chance to educate the 70% of the population under 30 about recycling, appropriate waste disposal and environmental preservation.