Solid waste management is one of the major environmental problems threatening the Mediterranean Kingdom of Morocco. More than five million tons of solid waste is generated across the country every year, with the annual waste generation growth rate touching 3%. Proper disposal of municipal solid waste in Morocco is hampered by major deficiencies such as lack of proper infrastructure and suitable funding in areas outside of major cities.
According to a European Commission report, before a recent reform in 2008 “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. There were 300 uncontrolled dumpsites, and about 3,500 waste-pickers, of which 10% were children, were living on and around these open dumpsites.”
Rubbish in, dioxins out
It is not uncommon to see trash burning as a means of solid waste disposal in Morocco, as this provides a cheap option in the absence of proper infrastructure. However, this treatment of the municipal waste stream is reckless and unsustainable, and has major effects on both public health and the environment. Unfortunately, the detrimental health effects of burning trash are either unknown or grossly under-estimated by the vast majority of the Moroccan population.
The burning of trash is a particular health concern because of the substantial amounts of the highly toxic environmental pollutants known as dioxins it produces. Most of the dioxins that are released into the air during the burning process end up on the leaves of green vegetation. These plants are then eaten by dairy animals such as cows, sheep and goats, which results in the dioxins being stored and accumulating in the animals’ fatty tissues. Once this occurs dioxins are difficult to avoid, with people being exposed to them primarily though eating meat and other dairy products, especially those high in fat.
Furthermore, this type of open burning also causes particle pollution. Particle pollution refers to microscopic particles that end up in the lungs and can cause a number of human health problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. Unfortunately, children and the elderly who are exposed to dioxins are among the highest at risk for contracting these illnesses. Other harmful carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) are also produced by outdoor burning. These pollutants have been known to cause numerous health problems, ranging from skin irritation to liver and kidney damage, and in some cases have been linked to cancer.
The ash that is produced when trash is burned often contains mercury, lead, chromium, and arsenic. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “Garden vegetables can absorb and accumulate these metals, which can make them dangerous to eat. Children playing in the yard or garden can incidentally ingest soil containing these metals. Also, rain can wash the ash into groundwater and surface water, contaminating drinking water and food.” This is not to mention the population of garbage-pickers who are putting their health on the line while sorting municipal wastes.
The good news about the future of Morocco’s MSW management is that the World Bank has allocated $271.3 million to the Moroccan government for the development of a municipal waste management plan. The plan’s details include restoring around 80 landfill sites, improving trash pickup services, and increasing recycling by 20%, all by the year 2020. While this is expected to do wonders for the urban population, one can only hope that the benefits of this reform will trickle down to the 43% of the Moroccan population living in rural areas.
Even with Morocco’s movement towards a safer and more environmentally friendly MSW management system there is still a large section of the population, including children and the elderly, whom this reform will overlook. Until more is done, these people will continue to be exposed to hazardous living conditions because of a lack of suitable funding, infrastructure and education.
We are grateful to EcoMENA for the opportunity to reproduce this article, which first appeared here. EcoMENA is a website focused on raising awareness of renewable energy, sustainability, waste management, environment protection, energy efficiency and resource conservation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.