In Morocco, despite innovations, waste recycling remains embryonic

“Nothing is lost here, everything is transformed”, says Mohamed El Kabous, production manager at Eléphant Vert proudly, crumbling a handful of compost produced in Morocco by this Swiss company specializing in the recovery of organic waste. An innovation in the kingdom, where recycling however remains incomplete.

It is in the Agropolis of Meknes (center), an industrial zone dedicated to agro-industry, that Green Elephant set up in 2012 its largest factory in Africa, with around fifty employees and a production capacity. 40,000 tonnes of compost per year, as well as organic fertilizers.

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At the entrance, modern offices with grass-green walls decorated with graffiti, like in a start-up in Casablanca. But once on the production site, a change of scenery: mountains of sawdust, crates and fruit tree branches cover the storage platform. The roar of trucks carrying manure and excavators aerating the compost fills the space.

Only 6% of household waste is recycled

“After mixing carbon-rich organic materials and manure from non-industrial breeding, rich in nitrogen, nature operates! “, explained to AFP Mohamed El Kabous. Here, we do not use household organic waste: “It’s very expensive because the culture of sorting is almost non-existent in Morocco”, he specifies. The waste comes from surrounding farms: factories working with wood, cooperatives that manufacture essential oils.

The open-air fermentation site, which takes four months to produce compost, does not emit any foul odors because wood is an absorbent material. On the contrary, we smell the smell of fresh earth. “I would even say that it smells like” zammita “”, jokes Mohamed El Kabous, in reference to a famous Moroccan cake.

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In addition to compost, Green Elephant produces fertilizers by adding phosphorus or potash. Its products flow mainly on the Moroccan market, for the benefit of large farms – whose soils have become impoverished due to the massive use of chemical fertilizers – and small organic farms. “Demand is increasing for farmers who, concerned about making their land sustainable, have become aware of the need to opt for healthy and sustainable agriculture”, emphasizes the manager.

If the recycling of organic products seems to take off, with other initiatives such as a major treatment and recovery center for the French giant Suez in Meknes, Morocco is far from ensuring efficient recovery of its waste. The household waste recycling rate was only 6% in 2015 (last reference year), or 420,000 tonnes out of a total of 7 million tonnes annually, according to the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development.

Waste management, “a time bomb”

If industrial waste is partly recycled (at 12%, especially plastic, paper / cardboard and metals), as elsewhere in the Maghreb, most of the household waste is buried. And this despite a plethora of projects, including a national waste treatment program which provided for a recycling rate of 20% in 2022. An objective pushed back to 2030. “These strategies crafted by technocrats in Rabat lead nowhere because they are modeled on European models, at odds with Moroccan habits”, explains Mustapha Brakez, expert in urban waste management. He points out, for example, that in Morocco, nearly 80% of household waste is organic, against less than 30% in Europe.

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The kingdom has only 26 landfill and recovery centers, although 66 illegal dumps have been rehabilitated so far, according to official data. “All efforts have been focused on the treatment [en majorité via de l’enfouissement], without providing solutions to the collection “, deplores Mustapha Brakez. For him, waste management in the country is ” a time bomb “ : “We are going to create more landfills, namely storage spaces, without solving the problem at the source. It is essential to think about a global system which goes from sorting at household level to recovery centers. “

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The World with AFP

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In Morocco, despite innovations, waste recycling remains embryonic