Pulling carts piled high with plastic bottles or rummaging through unofficial dumpsites, informal trash collectors abound on the streets of Morocco. Dubbed “Mikhala” in the local Arabic dialect, the thousands of rubbish pickers are often looked down on as they trudge through the capital Rabat and other Moroccan cities.
As the host of next year’s UN climate conference following the COP21 meeting in Paris Nov 30 to Dec 11 that aims to conclude a universal climate-rescue pact, Morocco will be under scrutiny for its own efforts to reduce emissions. And tackling household waste which the environment ministry says causes up to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions in Morocco will be key.
Morocco only recycles about 8% of its municipal waste, but has targeted to increase the amount to 20% by 2020, according to a report presented at the European Union (EU) last year. Set up in 2011 with support from the World Bank, the Attawafoq cooperative at the Oum Azza industrial landfill south of Rabat is a first attempt at changing that. It employs about 150 people mainly ex-pickers to sort trash for recycling on-site instead of on the streets.
Among them is Yassin Mazout, 31, a history graduate who heads the cooperative after becoming a trash picker to pay for his studies when his father died. “We are all equal, we all have the same monthly salary of 2,500 dirhams (about 230 euros/$260),” he says. “Before, at the old dumpsite, the strong would crush the weak.”
After working outside for years, Mazout and his colleagues now work under a roof manually sorting through half of the average 2,000 tons of solid waste that arrive each day at the landfill. This year for the first time the cooperative made a profit that will be divided up between members and used to increase its capital. Mazout wants trash pickers to finally receive the “respect” they deserve as “they play an important role in our lives both environmentally and economically.”
The cooperative provides an important environmental service at zero cost to the community, Mazout says and hopes the project will inspire others around a country that still counts 220 unauthorised dumpsites.
Recycling not only reduces waste in landfills, but also helps to lower greenhouse gas emissions by saving energy from producing or importing products like cardboard and plastic. Morocco aims to close all these informal dumping grounds by 2020, environment ministry official Lubna al-Abed says, and has already funded 16 waste sorting centres like Attawafoq in partnership with municipalities.