One of the first things that hits you in the face when you visit (or move to) East Jerusalem is the litter everywhere. There is definitely an irony in the fact that some of the most hotly contested land in the world is often treated with the least respect.
Bins are generally skips, with their contents ranging from furniture to building materials, food scraps to tins and bottles. Recycling is simply not part of everyday life here and most rubbish is lucky to make it as far as the skip in the first place. For anyone used to separating out waste into multiple bins this can come as a shock.
Very surprisingly, the smell isn’t the worst issue. Instead the skips act as an ecosystem in their own rights, with the many street cats fighting over scraps. These are not cute domestic pets but an altogether more feral beast, used to eking out an existence from the odd stale pitta bread it finds here and there.
No, the smell is only a problem if a stray cat dies and then everyone knows about it long before the poor animal is discovered. Now that is something I didn’t expect to learn here….
Largely, this is an East Jerusalem issue with West Jerusalem streets looking and feeling much cleaner. Clearly there are questions about the facilities and the infrastructure being inadequate and to me those seem valid. There is one municipality serving Jerusalem so it seems strange that there isn’t the same system in place across all neighbourhoods.
I completely get that there have always been bigger issues to address in East Jerusalem but I don’t accept that as a reason for doing nothing. Europe and the rest of the world is currently in the midst of a full-blown climate emergency with people afraid to even be seen with a plastic carrier bag and yet here you are frowned at for not double bagging each item. My friend recently caused a shop keeper to nearly have a heart attack by trying to take some unwrapped chillies home in her handbag!
There is power in taking action and there are things that everyone can do. Living here has caused me to rethink what I use and to reduce my consumption where I can. Sometimes it’s as easy as bringing my own water bottle out, bringing my own bags to the supermarket and looking for loose rather than packaged products. For ideas on how to go about positive change in Jerusalem I recommend checking out Zero Waste Jerusalem and Zero Waste Palestine.
I’ve also been inspired recently by my friend who has set up a home composter to make compost for her garden out of food waste. The municipality is currently offering installation for a small fee to anyone that is interested in having their own composter and this includes East Jerusalem – for more info email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that slowly people will start to use less and reduce their reliance on plastic which is suffocating this beautiful land (and the world). As well as reducing what we use we can also help to clean up the current mess.
Yes, it probably is someone else’s responsibility to do this. But waiting harms us, the residents of East Jerusalem more than it harms them. We are the people whose children want to play at the park without the risk of hurting themselves on broken glass. And who want to walk down the street without being confronted with a sea of discarded waste.
I will therefore be organising regular litter picks around East Jerusalem during 2020 and I hope you will join me!
Please get in touch to tell me your ideas on what people can do to help the environment in East Jerusalem. Do you want to organise a litter pick? Or want to share a tip on how you’ve reduced waste?