Updated: Apr 1
PLASTIC IN MY PLATE
As part of the Food Wave project initiative supported by the European Union and the municipality of Milan, MicroPlasticsJO supported an extensive research project in Jordan led by its co-founder, Xavier Huber.
Below are detailed some of the main highlights and key findings:
FROM JORDAN TO ITALY
The Food Wave project launched in 2020 on the relationship between food and climate justice. They invited MicroPlasticsJO co-founder Maria Nissan, to build an immersive installation in Turin, Italy.
Maria Nissan’s installation was made of hundreds of collected plastic materials,that showcased the egregious use of plastics in the farming industry in Jordan, in particular for tomato production.
TOMATO PRODUCTION AND PLASTIC USE IN JORDAN
MicroPlasticsJO supported this initiative through extensive field research on the supply chain of tomato production in the Hashemite Kingdom.
From seed conservation to packaging and transportation of mature tomatoes, the research highlighted the intense use of plastics by the multiple actors involved in the process.
In 2019, the FAO estimated that 12.5 million tons of plastics were used in fruits, vegetables, and animal production.
Most of these plastics are single-use and are replaced periodically.
With the objective of documenting the research of polluted agricultural lands by plastics, the project took MicroPlasticsJO to the South of Jordan (Aqaba region), where a high concentration of tomato fields is found but also to the the North and around Amman.
Noticeably, Jordan is the second tomato producer is the region with almost 900 000 tons produced yearly.
THE PLASTIC CULTURE - A POLLUTION WORSE THAN ANTICIPATED
Through interviews and open discussions with the farmers, the degree of plastic pollution revealed itself to be higher than anticipated.
The extensive use of plastic mulch used to control weeds and maintain the humidity at the base of the plants is one primary source of plastic solution for the soils. An estimated amount of 6000 tons of black plastic mulch is produced every year in Jordan.
At the end of the season, the plastic mulch generally made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is either collected and burned in the area or abandoned on the field and slowly fragments into microplastics.
Most farmers interviewed declared that the pollution generated by the production of tomatoes is known and has been ongoing for decades. Plastic mulch is highly accessible and affordable for most farmers. Costing less than 1 JOD per kilo, and sold at a wholesale level, plastic mulch is massively used by tomato farmers like other fruit and vegetable farmers.
The alternatives to plastic mulch such as biodegradable sheetings are usually known but often disregarded. The business-as-usual approach remains the norm as the economical benefits of using plastic remain predominant. In parallel, the existing regulations that would prevent the illegal incineration of plastic mulch are usually ignored and rarely implemented. Out of the 20 farms visited on Desert road (South of Jordan), fifteen illegal plastic mulch incineration sites have been found.
Interviewing farmers, the highly competitive domestic and foreign tomato markets, the increasing costs of production, and other economical turbulences relegate environmental concerns to the bottom of the list of the producer’s main priorities.
PACKAGING AND PLASTIC: A REAL LOVE STORY.
The mature tomatoes ready for consumption are usually transported in plastic crates commonly made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP) before being dispatched directly to markets or to warehouses to be reconditioned into transparent packaging. Easily breakable and inexpensive, the crates are only used a couple of times before being discarded. The crates are often collected by individuals selling them to recycling factories.
TAKE A BAG (WITH YOU)!
Visiting 12 different markets in the cities of Amman (5), Aqaba (2), Irbid (3), and Salt (2), the observations made led to some interesting findings.
Out of 246 interactions between shoppers and sellers around tomatoes:
217 shoppers (88%) accepted the new single-use black plastic bag(s) given by the shopper.
17 shoppers (7%) asked to reuse the single-use plastic bags they received from previous sellers in the market.
12 shoppers (5%) refused the single-use plastic bag offered by the seller.
We can assume that these figures are indicative of shopping behaviors towards tomatoes but also towards most fruits and vegetables commonly found in most Jordanian markets.
Noticeably, These single-use black plastic bags are officially prohibited in the Kingdom since 2017. Made of polyethylene material, these bags are poorly resistant and usually last for a few minutes. More than 3 billion of these bags are being used in Jordan yearly, knowing that they cannot be recycled. 30 million of these bags end their life in natural environments every year.
CHANGING THE PLASTIC CULTURE
Asking 42 Jordanian shoppers (21 women, 21 men) questions related to their customer's habits when shopping for fruits and vegetables in local markets, the findings below demonstrate a strong attachment to the plastic culture.
71% of the shoppers declared that accepting single-use plastics offered by the sellers is convenient and adapted to their shopping habits so they do not envision changing their habits in the future.
89% of the shoppers declared that they will reconsider using single-use plastic bags if they had to pay for them, whatever the price.
14% declared that they are aware of the environmental consequences single-use plastic bags have on the environment and on people’s health.
3% of the shoppers declared that they usually take bags from their homes when doing their groceries in local markets because of the environmental footprints of single-use plastic bags.
Moreover, the low percentage of shoppers who declare being aware of the consequences of these bags on the natural environment and on people’s health is also a strong indicator of a lack of awareness among Jordanians.
A GREENER AND PLASTIC-FREE FUTURE. BETWEEN UTOPIA AND REALITY
The alternatives to plastic mulch and other single-use plastics used in the tomato industry do exist. If the road to sustainability is paved with economical investments, cultural changes, and individual efforts, the public sector has a strong stake in building the foundation of this necessary transition.
Updating and enforcing existing laws and regulations while reinforcing the legal arsenal are prerequisites to enabling change. Simultaneously, the Jordanian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Industry, and Trade And Supply are encouraged to pursue their efforts to economically support the farmer’s transition towards sustainable agriculture.
The responsibility for enabling this transition also lies with the consumers. By changing their mindsets and buying behaviors, Jordanians can have a strong and rapid impact on the reduction of plastic consumption. This requires the private and public sectors to invest in awareness campaigns, affordable alternatives to plastics and inevitably taxing single-use plastic daily such as plastic bags.