Morocco: it’s rubbish?


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By Jen

I’ve been going on a bit in these blog posts about how fascinating and stunningly beautiful Morocco is. The landscape is as diverse as it is impressive, and her people are genuine and welcoming. But there’s one big blot on the landscape, very literally. The ubiquitous plastic bag. Or more generally, plastic litter.

It’s not a little litter problem, it’s a huge one. Morocco is the second biggest user of plastic bags in the world. Discarded ones are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I read that the average plastic bag is used for 12 minutes, and then takes between 100 and 400 years to degrade. An estimated 3 billion a year are used in Morocco.

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It becomes an all too familiar site. Rare argan plantations, found nowhere else in the world but Morocco, with plastic bags caught in the branches of the trees. Remote, traditional villages, with plastic bags blowing between the mud-brick houses. Breathtaking gorges and sand dunes, with plastic bags dotted over the landscape. Bigger towns, with plastic bags and litter lining the streets.

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There seem to be two causes. A national mindset, and tourists. The first is perhaps understandable. The second is shameful. Some visitors set foot in Morocco leaving their litter consciousness back in neat and tidy suburbia. Of course by no means all tourists, but a shocking number seem to forget that litter left at the side of the road in Morocco takes just as long to decompose as it does anywhere else. What’s yet another bag of rubbish, when there’s rubbish everywhere? It’s just plain wrong.

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The national mindset issue is twofold: limited public services and an infrastructure which is trying to keep up with providing rubbish collection, and a lack of education. Massive plastic consumption is a new(ish) problem in Morocco. What to do about it is hovering at the bottom of the priority list. There are, rightly, other thing which have to come first, like healthcare and education. But that won’t be the case for long, if things continue as they are.

My litter ‘problems’ in Scotland? ‘Is it the green or the brown or the blue bin collection today?’ ‘Which bin do jar lids go in?’ ‘Is garden waste collection day on a Tuesday or a Thursday?’ How lucky I am.

Children in Morocco aren’t taught to use litter bins, which are few and far between anyway, or about the long term problems of mass fly tipping.

That is to say, they are not taught routinely. But there are some exceptions and hopefully those exceptions will sooner rather than later become the norm. One such exception is in Khamlia, on the edge of the Sahara desert in eastern Morocco. And that exception is driven, in part, by an inspirational primary school teacher called Samir and his colleague, Mohammed.

There are two primary classrooms in Khamlia, spanning the 6 primary school years, and a total of 48 pupils. There are litter bins in both classes and in the playground, with multilingual signs encouraging their use. The children are taught the simple lesson of not instinctively throwing rubbish on the ground. A lorry comes past once a week on a Saturday and the bins are emptied into the lorry.

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New bins are being made at the Association building next door to the school, where extra-curricular activities for children and for local residents are organised (it also houses the new library). The children helped make the first bin this week.

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Round containers made of traditional mud bricks, held together with a mud/straw mix, were decorated with a mosaic of stones, spelling out “bin” in Arabic, French and English.

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For me, Katie and I helping to make just one bin was the most rewarding day I think we’ve spent in a Morocco. If tiny little Khamlia can do it, so can everywhere else. Why would you want to spoil something as beautiful as this?

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