One Man’s Trash is a Rubbish Collector’s Livelihood

When you roll your trash bin to the curb the night before pickup, do you ever think about what happens once it leaves your driveway? What about in a place where a dump truck doesn’t come around every week? Or in a place where a landfill or collection agency doesn’t exist? What happens to trash then?

In many undeveloped countries, such as parts of Morocco, the most common way to get rid of trash is by making a small pile in the street and simply burning it, or in more urban settings, trash collection does take place, but it  is taken to a dump where the trash is then burned. Open burning smells awful, and is a major source of pollutants with emissions that can substantially affect human health and climate. Due to the lack of waste management infrastructure, it is estimated that more than 40% of the world’s garbage is burned as it is the most inexpensive form of waste disposal.

However, Morocco is trying to decrease this percentage by developing a municipal waste management plan. The country has recently been allocated $271.3 million from the World Bank in an effort to restore around 80 landfill sites, improving trash pickup services, and increase recycling by 20%, all by the year 2020. Currently the reform is primarily for the urban population, but there is hope that the ideas can trickle down to the 43% of the Moroccan population living in rural areas.  The bank-supported program started in 2009 and is slowly weening off its loan as service taxes have been able to increase from 1.4 million in 2008 to 2.6 million in 2011. The sector has been able to establish policy and legislation that had never before been in place which allowed the necessary regulatory framework to establish the foundations for integrated and affordable municipal solid waste management systems3.

According to an article on Morocco’s Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) sector, in 2008 the country was reported as producing about 5 million tons of MSW per year and it is expected to reach 6.2 million in 2020. Prior to the reform initiative, only 70% of urban MSW was collected and less than 10% of collected waste was being disposed of in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner.  The other 90% we can assume was taken to a dump where there it was either collected by citizens or simply burned. There were 300 uncontrolled dumpsites, and about 3,500 waste-pickers, of which 10% were children, living on and around these open dumpsites. However, now the amount of properly disposed MSW has increased from 10% to 30%.

In an attempt to get people out of the dumps while keeping their dignity intact and also providing a way to support their families, Morocco has partnered with local authorities to hire these informal trash collectors to do their job in a more formal setting. 150 people have formed the cooperative to earn their living in an honest way. Each employee has a fixed salary of around 230 euros per month and receives social security. This initiative has funded 16 of the existing 19 sorting and waste recycling centers with 6 new sorting centers currently being built, and a goal of 70 centers by 20205. The full story can be seen in this video.

The MSW reform has set three priority areas using the funds provided by the World Bank. First to enhance the waste management sector through additional legal, regulatory, and institutional measures, and by eliminating overlap in policy-making, regulatory, and operational structure. Next Morocco wishes to improve the sustainability of the sector by introducing financial incentives for municipalities to support the investments and services. The final goal is to emphasize mainstream social and environmental considerations in planning, implementation, and operations of the solid waste services and investments. Additionally, with its new MSW initiative, Morocco has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 13% by 2020. Though this is an ambitious goal, it is a realistic plan if the 220 unauthorized landfills (primarily those with open burning) can be shut down.

To ensure these new initiatives can really take root in Morocco, the officials have aimed at making social inclusion a key objective of the program through education of the local community and through the cooperative. Informal trash collectors on the streets of Morocco were often looked down on, but the new cooperative is starting to change that image.

Do you believe Morocco’s 2020 goals are realistic? Could the cooperative be a tool the US could mirror to create more jobs and increase recycle rates?



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