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Implementing Recycling and WASH Projects in Protracted Emergencies

Hello TSS

I wondered whether you could query with your pool of experts whether anyone has experience of implementing recycling projects in protracted emergencies? I would be looking for advice, lessons learnt, methodologies etc.

We are aiming to trial a recycling project in Za'atari camp, in particular linked to livelihoods for refugees, and I would like to ensure we are taking a comprehensive look at sectoral learning on the topic and have an idea of some of the pitfalls to avoid!

Many thanks,


Which organisations will use this advice? : Oxfam GB

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Given the mention of WASH in the title, can I confirm that you are referring to recycling of wastewater?

If this is the case then, while I have not done any wastewater recycling projects in an emergency refugee context, I have done a number in the Middle East. I would imagine that the cultural implications are very similar.

Learning points from Middle East wastewater recycling projects are that they are often over-engineered and unnecessarily complex:

One major project uses RO polishing to create a better-than-drinking-water effluent that was originally intended for potable use but was then (for cultural perception reasons) only used for irrigation - a massive waste of money and energy, that is perpetuated due to the inflexible contract terms.

In another project, a client wanted the first grey water treatment plant in their country, however they only wanted to use the treated water for irrigation, hence full combined wastewater reuse would have been much more affordable and appropriate.

In one example of best practice at a labour camp, reed beds were used to treat the wastewater & perfect cherry tomatoes started to grow in the reed bed, due to the seeds that entered with the wastewater.

I presume when you mention livelyhoods (unless you mean recycling of metals, plastics, paper, etc.) you mean agriculture utilising biosolids and recycled water. Obviously crop selection is important, to mitigate the risk of product contamination.

My main learning point from Middle East wastewater recycling projects would be to use the whole wastewater, and don't over treat it. The nutrients that we seek to remove in conventional wastewater treatment are nutrients - hence they are good for the plants. Removing everything and then adding chemical fertiliser is pointless.

Obviously if you minimise treatment, a big pitfall to avoid is odour. It is critical to design your irrigation system well, and to design the wastewater treatment with the irrigation system in mind.

Feel free to get in touch, should you wish to discuss wastewater reuse further, I'd love to help.

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Hi Michelle,

In case you were referring to solid waste rather than wastewater, there have been a number of initiatives of recycling in humanitarian settings, although they remain sporadic. Is there any more detail you could share about the project in Zaatari?

In Haiti, for instance, IOM and some INGOs provided composting training in several IDP settlement, with alternating results: most successful cases were linked to IDP coming from farming communities (rather than urban ones) and in settlements where there was enough space for small orchards. Always related to Haiti and organic waste, SOIL is currently managing two co-composting plants in the country, with good results; however, from the economic point of view it seems co-composting is not yet self-sustaining from composting sales, but it is the most cost effective sludge treatment method. Waste banks, or cash back (Ramasse Lajan) also contributed to dramatically expand PET and HDPE recycling, although plastic is actually exported rather than recycled in-country due to a weak industrial base.

Regarding lessons learned and avoiding pitfalls, they are usually very context specific, so that would pretty much depend on Jordan market for recyclables, logistics and, above all, the waste characterization and the collection system in place in Zaatari camp. Other issues encountered in similar recycling projects are legal (e.g. national waste legislation, refugee permission to work/own businesses within the host country) and cultural (stigma associated working with waste).

The first step would be, in any case, conducting a waste assessment to characterize waste and generation rates while mapping already existing informal valorization chains. followed by a market assessment and a cost benefit analysis. If I'm not mistaken, Acted should have already conducted a waste assessment: any chance the document is available?

In any case, here at DWR we specialize in disaster and humanitarian waste, so please, do not hesitate to contact us for more information or further help.

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2014-09-16 08:40:52 -0500
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Sep 28 '14