The Culture of Trash

Amman is such a great city. Jordan has some of the most welcoming people I have had the pleasure of meeting and I really like it here. But there is one aspect I can’t help but cringe over: trash. I don’t think people believe in trash cans in the Middle East and they especially don’t give a crap about recycling.  I went to a high school that prided itself on being very green. My dad’s hobby is seriously recycling. I’m not kidding, he is weirdly obsessed.  Hence, I enjoy recycling and generally being a clean person. Yeah not sure that concept exists over here.  Trash is everywhere. I literally see people throwing plastic chip bags or soda cans out their car windows without hesitation.  Why?! Why are there so little trash cans out on streets? Why do people not care about littering? “Garbage” men are employed to pick up this said trash. I see them in Amman in orange jumpsuits on the side of roads sweeping up trash here and there. But this force of garbage men are barely scratching the surface. Why are they employed? I hear, especially in Turkey’s case, that these men would otherwise would be poor, idle men.  Picking up trash provides jobs to many people. Taking that away from them might start an uproar.  Secondly, when I asked a staff member about the trash she explained that to many Arabs they believe that no one owns public places and/or the outside so it’s not their job to keep it clean.  The classic tragedy of the commons. However, you walk into an Arab’s home or store and it is spotless. I guess they feel that the inside of buildings is more important than the outside.


piles of trash dumped behind buildings in downtown Amman

     I remember driving over to my Arabic Professor’s house the first time.  It was a nice house but I couldn’t get past the landscaping, or rather, lack thereof.  His lawn was untrimmed and plagued by weeds and two old trees.  no flowers. no hedges. no nothing.  Maybe it was just how I was raised with my parents constantly working in the yard. My mom planted pretty flowers and plants and my dad fertilized the yard, trimmed plants, and plucked weeds.  Maybe it’s just a Western thing to invest in landscaping…. I almost thought I had the wrong house what with all the weeds in the yard, but there my Professor and his young daughter stood in the open doorway welcoming me in.  His house was spotless and very charming on the inside. You would have never guessed by the outside.  So what does this all mean? I guess that for Westerns our yards are a reflection of the inside of our homes.  They are a representation of one’s status and wealth perhaps.  There is a lot of focus on appearances in the Western world and maybe that’s why my dad enjoys keeping our yard looking nice. But this doesn’t easily translate to Arab countries where most plants can’t grow in the harsh environments of desert lands.  Also, in cities like Amman most people live in apartments and therefore have no lawn to maintain.  With no lawn to show off what do they care if they throw their empty chip bag on the ground?  But I have met several Jordanians that express their sadness about this culture of trash in Jordan.

IMG_2218     The solution seems easy right? More trash cans = less littering. But this might be easier said than done in an area such as the Middle East where there are more underlining issues that take precedence over promoting recycling I guess.


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