Company transforms waste as Morocco faces ‘ticking time bomb’


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Meknes (Morocco) (AFP) – Recycling in Morocco is perhaps only in its infancy, but the Maghreb kingdom is progressing steadily, helped by a Swiss company specializing in the treatment of organic waste.

“Here, nothing is thrown away: everything is transformed”, proudly declares Mohamed El Kabous, crumbling a handful of compost produced by Elephant Vert (EV – Green Elephant) in downtown Meknes.

Established in 2012 as the largest electric vehicle factory of its kind on the African continent, the factory has an annual turnover of 40,000 tonnes of compost and organic fertilizers.

Mountains of sawdust, pallets and fruit tree branches line a storage platform as trucks loaded with manure storm past and excavators aerate piles of compost.

Electric vehicle production manager Kabous said no organic household waste was processed at the plant because “it’s too expensive.”

The pre-sorting of residential waste is “almost non-existent,” he told AFP.

Instead, the waste comes from neighboring farms and factories that work with wood, or from cooperatives producing essential oils.

“After the carbon-rich organic matter and nitrogen-rich manure from non-factory farming are mixed, nature then takes over,” Kabous said.

The wood is absorbent, so no odor escapes from the outdoor fermentation area, where it takes about four months to produce the compost.

Mountains of sawdust, pallets, and fruit tree branches line a storage platform as trucks blast off loaded with manure and excavators aerate piles of compost FADEL SENNA AFP

The smell is actually fresh earth. Kabous joked that he even smelled like “zammita”, a traditional Moroccan cake made from flour, almonds and sesame seeds.

The EV plant also produces fertilizers by adding potash or phosphorus to the compost.

‘Time bomb’

EV production is sold mainly in the local market to organic farms and large companies whose soil has lost nutrients due to overuse of chemical fertilizers.

Agriculture remains a pillar of the Moroccan economy.


EV production is sold mainly in the local market to organic farms and large companies whose soil has lost nutrients due to overuse of chemical fertilizers.
EV production is sold mainly in the local market to organic farms and large companies whose soil has lost nutrients due to overuse of chemical fertilizers. FADEL SENNA AFP

“There is a growing demand from farmers who want to make sure their land is sustainable, and who know they need to opt for healthy and sustainable agriculture,” Kabous said.

Meknes is also home to other organic recycling initiatives, including a waste treatment and recovery plant operated by the French giant Suez.

But nationally, that’s another story.

In 2015, official figures provided to AFP showed that only 6% of household waste was recycled – 420,000 tons out of seven million – while the rest was buried.

Instead, up to 12% of industrial waste has been recycled – mostly plastic, paper, metal, and electrical and electronic equipment.

Morocco’s official recycling target is 20% of waste by 2022, a date now pushed back to 2030.

Mustapha Brakez, an expert in urban recycling, has lambasted the government’s efforts to boost the practice.

“These strategies of the bureaucrats in (the capital) Rabat have come to nothing because they are based on European models, which are the opposite of Moroccan habits,” he said.

Almost 80 percent of household waste in Morocco is organic, he noted, while in Europe the figure is less than 30 percent.

The kingdom has only 26 landfills and sorting centers, while official data shows that 66 illegal landfills have been regularized or closed.

“All the efforts are focused on the treatment, without proposing solutions for the collection” of the waste, said Brakez.


The EV plant produces fertilizer by adding potash or phosphorus to the compost
The EV plant produces fertilizer by adding potash or phosphorus to the compost FADEL SENNA AFP

He called waste management in Morocco a “time bomb”.

“We’re just going to create more landfills, without addressing the problem at the source,” he said.

“It is essential to imagine a system that starts with sorting at household level.