As the Moroccan government and waste facilities buckle down on improving waste management in the country, recycling remains a major issue.
Rabat – Morocco is breathtaking with its beautiful coastlines, luscious greenery, and Saharan landscapes. Moroccan cities and towns come to life inside the traditional medinas, where generations of families have walked upon the same streets for centuries. These Moroccan charms are all at risk with the country’s current recycling waste management systems and plans.
During my time in Morocco, I have had such a difficult time finding places to recycle my single use plastics and other recyclable materials. I thought, how is anything recycled if I don’t see recycling bins anywhere? I decided it was time to hunt the city of Rabat for places to recycle my waste.
Before the hunt for recycling bins began, I researched Morocco’s past and current waste management systems. Morocco’s history with waste management is positive, with the ban of plastic bags in 2016 through the Zero Mika initiative, and the World Bank’s plan to restore 80 waste dumps, improve trash collection, and increase recycling by 20% this year.
Though this sounds great, Morocco’s waste management system is still in a dire condition. There is no formal separation of general waste and recycled waste in Morocco. Among the waste dumps are materials like plastic that sit in landfill for up to 1,000 years, glass that can take one million years to decompose, and tins of steel and aluminium that take 50-500 years.
Without a formal recycling system, my expectations of finding recycle bins in Rabat were decreasing, but I remained optimistic. My plan was to explore the traditional part of the city (medina), as well as modern shopping and business districts like Hassan, Agdal-Ryad, and the city center.
Rabat’s medina offers a more traditionally Moroccan living style. Markets, old architecture, and riads (traditional Moroccan houses) make up the neighborhood. The roads are very narrow, so garbage trucks cannot enter. This makes waste management difficult and recycling unavailable, as waste is collected door to door, from the streets, or at general waste dumpsters at some exits of the medina.
Surprisingly, the narrow streets of the medina are usually very clean, but there is definitely no access to formal recycling within the traditional neighborhood.
Determined, I headed to the business districts of Rabat to hunt for recycle bins. In residential areas of Hassan and Agdal-Ryad, there were infrequent dumpsters on the sides of main roads, some overfilled, some not, all containing recyclable materials that will go into landfill.
Landfill in Morocco is so full that both locals and waste companies implement strategies to combat the overflow of waste. Unofficial landfill sites are consuming Moroccan land, storing the excessive waste produced, including recyclable materials.
Moroccan citizens and vendors alike utilize an unofficial recycling system to account for the underdeveloped waste structure in the country. Gathering plastic bottles and jugs as well as paper, rags, and metal, the locals repurpose the objects, storing and selling various products from oils to spices. Moroccans living in douars (slums) are even illegally gathering recyclable waste such as plastic, wood, metal, and rags from general waste dumps, sorting and repurposing them.
With much lighter landfill, small, somewhat clean general waste bins stand frequently in Rabat’s city center, tram stations, and business areas of Agdal-Ryad and Hassan. But still, there is no where to recycle.
In Morocco, the waste from these dumpsters and trash cans are offloaded into dumps, burned in valorization camps, and buried. Amounts of up to 300,000 tons of waste leaks into nature every year.
I thought Morocco’s new waste management programs would have some effect on new buildings and facilities, but the malls in Rabat like the Arribat Center and the Mega Mall also offered general waste only.
Morocco’s household waste management program funded by the Environmental Department allocates just 1.8% of its MAD 40 billion ($4.2 million) budget to “recycling, sorting, and recovery.”
As I went on a weekend trip to Casablanca, I was shocked when I finally found recycle bins after almost two weeks of searching! Standing in Rabat Ville, the main train station of Rabat, were three small, metallic trash bins categorized for glass, plastic, and paper waste. The bins were only designed for small waste like cups, bottles, and plates.
If recycle bins like these were placed in facilities like parks, restaurants, and even residential areas, general landfill in Morocco would have less pressure, and less trash would fill up the land or float towards Morocco’s beautiful coastlines.
Only 8% of waste in Morocco is recycled, according to a WWF report.
I understand that it is difficult to establish a formal recycling system in Morocco given its current waste management circumstances, but it is something the government should prioritize. More funds should be allocated towards recycling waste to prevent the deterioration and pollution of the lands, streets, and seas of Morocco.