Finance and Investment
Paper and Plastic: Educating Jordanians about the Value of RecyclingPublished: March 07, 2011
For most of her adult life, Ghadeer Ibrahim worked as a teacher, but that job, she says, never quite lived up to her expectations.
So in 2008, the now 34-year-old Jordanian entrepreneur used her savings to launch Recycling City, which collects waste products and sells them to larger recycling operations. Her company, which has two part-time employees, is located in the low-income east Amman neighborhood of Jabel Al-nadeef, where she goes door to door collecting household waste and sorts it on the plot of land that houses her company. The most common sorted and sold items include plastics, cans, glass bottles, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, newspapers and bread. "Ever since I was a child, I felt good about recycling," Ibrahim says. "As I got older, I thought it could also be a successful kind of business. Now I'm satisfying my own feelings about recycling, I have my own business and I'm doing something good for the future of our planet."
While Ibrahim is happy to follow her dream, it has not always been an easy path. "Unfortunately, recycling is not as well known in my area as it is in some other places," she says. "So I have had to educate people about why it's good to recycle."
The Best Scrap Wins
Recycling appears to be a new concept in Jordan. The Green Prophet, a source of environmental news in the Middle East, reported in September 2008 that Amman was just starting to recycle its solid waste with the help of the Jordan Environment Society. "Until now, the capital's garbage has been dumped in the Ghabawi landfill," the article reported. The new project will "introduce the recycling method into the handling of garbage." Still, readers were skeptical that the recycling effort would ever take off.
Ibrahim has faced a learning curve. Simply telling would-be customers about how recycling can benefit the environment has not been entirely successful. Ibrahim therefore also offers incentives to get people on board. "I set up a contest, with a laptop computer as a reward," she says. "For one year, people earn rewards points based on the kinds of products they bring in, including wires, boxes, cans, plastic and paper. At the end of that time, the person with the highest score wins the laptop."
While incentives can be effective, they need to be part of a sound business model, notes Tarek Hatem, a professor of strategic management and entrepreneurship at the American University in Cairo who taught Ibrahim when she participated in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program in 2010. Hatem says that far too often, small startups like Recycling City make basic errors, like neglecting to keep accurate records. Ibrahim, for example, said she was not aware of the need to track her revenue and expenses until she completed the certificate program. "In order to fund a successful incentive program [like the laptop computer contest], an entrepreneur needs to know his or her revenue and expense numbers," Hatem says. "Cash flow considerations are vital to the survival of a business, so if you don't know your profit or loss numbers, you can't control the expenses associated with an incentive program."
Ibrahim has faced other challenges, like being a woman business owner in Jordan's male-dominated culture. "To succeed, I have to work harder than a man," Ibrahim says. "But on the other hand, most of the materials I collect for recycling are gathered by women family members, so being a woman makes it easier to communicate with them and explain the idea of recycling."
Aprons, Bookmarks and Toys
In general, says Hatem, Ibrahim will need to persevere to succeed in her business niche, including trying to raise awareness of recycling issues in her area. "However, on the plus side, there won't be much in the way of competition, and she probably has access to a good supply of material. But as she has seen, it can be difficult to incentivize the population to take part in her recycling collection efforts."
Ibrahim may well get stronger support from a country that is growing more environmentally conscious. Jordan is said to have a new environmental commitment as it begins "to realize that the environment is crucial to the country's overall survival" reported the Green Prophet late last year. For instance, the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature agreed to establish nine new protected areas in the country.
So far, Ibrahim doesn't have the cash flow for a formal advertising campaign, but says she uses customer service to differentiate and market her company. What's more, she is trying to expand her revenue stream by using some of the goods she collects as raw material to make and sell her own repurposed products, including aprons, bookmarks, wall decorations and toys. So far she offers about 40 different products, adding new items each two months. "I hope to expand into other neighborhoods," she says. "And the Jordanian government is trying to get people to be more aware of the benefits of recycling. That will be good for my business."