The northern Moroccan metropolis of Meknes is one of four imperial cities in the North African kingdom – Fez, Marrakesh and the capital Rabat make up the quartet. Smaller and less touristy than Marrakesh, Meknes boasts a charming medina and an imperial centre, built in the Spanish-Moorish style by Sultan Moulay Ismail in the late seventeenth century.
More than a decade ago, the Guardian described the city’s allure: “Dreamy, quiet, with white walls and pastel streets; and strange attractions, such as the vast old prison.” Today, meanwhile, Lonely Planet reckons that with its “winding narrow medina streets and grand buildings … visitors will find much to be enchanted by” in Meknes.
Few, if any, guidebooks will mention the infamous skip. Located five kilometres from the city centre, the Meknes landfill facility receives 185,000 tonnes of waste every year produced by the city’s 650,000 inhabitants. The problem? The site has been operated in an uncontrolled and unregulated way since 2002, and today covers some 25 hectares.
Fortunately, since 2014, SITA Atlas – a subsidiary of the French-based utility company Suez – has driven a project to rehabilitate the landfill facility. Specifically, it was awarded a 20-year contract worth nearly €90 million to design, build and operate a waste elimination and recycling facility, and help meet certain sustainable development objectives.
The aim, the company said when the project launched, was “to eradicate old waste, to protect the environment and the health of its citizens, and to preserve the ecological balance”. As part of that, it agreed to remediate the landfill and landscape access roads.
However, two major pillars of the project are recycling and biological recovery. To that end, Suez agreed to develop and operate a new waste elimination and recycling facility able to process up to 330,000 tonnes of household and similar waste per year.
The recycling takes place in large sorting hangars, while a biological recovery plant makes compost from the biodegradable waste and captures biogas, which is turned into heat energy for treating leachate – a potentially harmful liquid – emerging from the landfill. Think of the potential impact on the climate. Thanks to its methane recovery system, the facility is reckoned to save equal to some 100,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year.
Yet increased community engagement is fundamental to the project, too. Most of the recycling and sorting is done by some 150 people who used to be waste pickers at the landfill site. Today, they run the site as a cooperative, which helps improve their living and working conditions. As well as promoting a social and inclusive business model, the Suez project thus helps make the Moroccan recycling sector more professional. Moreover, the project reduces the amount of material going to landfill – and in turn boosts the local market for secondary raw materials, potentially allowing Morocco to lower its import levels.
Thanks, then, to this partnership between Suez and the workers’ cooperative, the Meknes landfill site has become a model for both waste management and community engagement. That still may not put it in many travel guides – but it remains an idea well worth recycling.