Workshop Opening: Highlighting the Enormous Potential in Waste and Water in Morocco
The American Chamber of Commerce in Morocco (AmCham) organized a workshop under the theme “Opportunities and Challenges in Waste and Water in Morocco” on March 21 in Casablanca. The workshop was funded the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Policy (OES), managed by the Regional Environment Officer at Embassy Amman. Post leveraged the OES grant to raise additional co-financing from the Moroccan Industrial Cluster for Environmental Services (CISE), an environmental NGO with backing from the Moroccan Ministry of Industry and Trade. More than 130 participants from the Moroccan public and private sectors, plus civil society, attended the event. Alongside AmCham President Azzeddine Kettani, the Chargé d’Affaires delivered keynote remarks at the workshop’s opening, highlighting the long and deep history of bilateral cooperation on environmental issues in Morocco, under the framework of the Environmental Chapter of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement. She noted that many of the statistics that have shown Morocco’s struggle to implement better environmental protections – such as the fact that less than one percent of household waste is recycled, or that only about ten percent of Morocco’s treated wastewater is reused – also demonstrate the enormous potential for new approaches and technological solutions. Following her remarks, the workshop began with three consecutive panels, focused on the opportunities, challenges, and solutions for Morocco’s waste and water sectors.
Panel I: Opportunities for Waste and Water Investments
Participants on the first panel, composed entirely of Moroccan government officials plus the resident director of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), discussed the various aspects of the waste and water sectors that provide opportunities for the private sector, including upcoming projects. Ministry of Equipment, Transport, Logistics, and Water Chief of Service for Partnerships and Concessions Siham Laraichi pointed to the 2009 water strategy as a pivotal document that set the groundwork for allowing access to nonconventional water sources, such as brackish groundwater or treated wastewater, for value creation. Chief of Service for Nonhazardous Waste Loubna El Abed and Chief of Service for Solid Waste Mohammed Amounas, both of the Secretariat of State for Sustainable Development (SEDD), highlighted the new National Strategy for the Reduction and Reuse of Solid Waste, which SEDD launched on March 11. The new strategy would “provide better direction” to companies seeking opportunities in recycling and waste reuse, El Abed said. Ministry of Interior Division Chief for Waste Collection Anas Laaraichi emphasized that with the deployment of Morocco’s advanced regionalization plan, the regional and local authorities would gain greater power and resources over the implementation of their local waste disposal and management, with the ability to tender contracts for those functions with greater independence from the central government. The MCC director informed the attendees of upcoming tenders from MCC’s local implementing agency for wastewater treatment plants at two industrial zones in Morocco.
The Ministry representatives noted, however, that despite these strategies, various regulatory gaps have prevented additional economic activity in the sectors, particularly for waste. Morocco has not yet passed a law that would define the contractual obligations for the treatment of waste, which has led to inefficiencies and at times disputes over waste management, Laraichi said. The government’s objective is to transform the waste management model from disposal in landfills to creating value from treated waste, but this would take time. Of the more than 300 landfills in Morocco, only 49 have been rehabilitated, with the remainder still “wild” and uncontrolled, she added. For recycling, El Abed quipped that Moroccans already have waste sorting knowledge, offering the example of how many households sort leftover food and leave it outside their homes for neighborhood cats. “They need encouragement and infrastructure to scale this up,” she said. Sorting is also a necessity from the perspective of the national volume of waste: with more than one billion liters of landfill leachate stored at waste disposal sites around the country, continuing to add additional land for waste disposal was not a sustainable course, El Abed continued. With successful sorting, the organic material in Moroccan waste could also be treated and sold as valuable compost for agricultural purposes, Laaricihi said.
Panel II: Challenges in Waste and Wastewater Management
During the second panel, participants from the private sector expounded on additional challenges to improving waste and water management. The launch of the national solid waste strategy was a good step, but until the strategy has been operationalized by regulations to structure new recycling and waste transformation methods, nothing concrete would happen, said Coca-Cola Morocco Public Affairs and Sustainability Director Loubna Sabir. She noted that a “gray zone” existed between the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Industry, and SEDD for regulations that would permit the formation of an industrial alliance to create value from industries’ own waste. Financing is another key obstacle for firms to overcome, said Meryem Chennawi from BMCE Bank of Africa’s Structural Financing Division. With most Moroccan municipalities having few resources to devote to waste or water management, it was far cheaper and easier just to dump their waste on the land or release untreated wastewater back into watersheds. The fines for doing so are not sufficiently high to discourage such behavior, added Polluclean CEO Driss Nahya. Houria Taza, president of the Moroccan Coalition for Water (COALMA) lamented that Moroccan wastewater treatment plants met top standards for the purification of wastewater, but that with the vast majority of Morocco’s population along the coasts, the treated water is lost to the ocean before it can be used for another economic purpose.
Panel III: U.S. Solutions for Waste and Wastewater
With logistical assistance from Post, AmCham invited U.S. wastewater and landfill leachate treatment expert Ivan Cooper to the workshop. Drawing on meetings with Moroccan officials and site visits to wastewater treatment plants and landfills earlier in the week, Cooper presented at the beginning of the third panel on various low-cost solutions for wastewater and leachate treatment that have been adopted in the United States and in countries such as Jordan that have similar climatic conditions to some parts of Morocco. Participants showed particular interest in Cooper’s discussion of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment. Morocco has not yet adopted this approach, which is both low-tech and low-cost, whereby specific species of plants aid in the treatment process by removing various constituents from the sewage or leachate. Cooper highlighted positive results in using vetiver, a type of grass that grows quickly, is drought resilient, and is sterile (non-invasive); in addition to Southeast Asia, vetiver is cultivated for export in Hawaii. He also emphasized the potential of using treated wastewater to grow livestock feed, such as barley or millet, if social acceptance issues would preclude using treated wastewater directly on fruit, vegetable, or grain crops.
Aside from difficulty finding funds to pay for waste management, given political reluctance to raise collection fees, many municipalities have problems providing enough land for adequate landfills, U.S.-Moroccan waste management firm EcoMed CEO Ahmed Hamidi mentioned on the third panel. EcoMed manages landfills for ten Moroccan cities, and has implemented many cutting-edge solutions, such as capturing biogas for power generation at the landfill in Fes and sorting recyclables with recently formalized waste pickers at the waste facility in Marrakech. (Note: EcoMed formerly managed the Mediouna landfill in Casablanca, until a contract dispute led the city to retender the waste management services in summer 2018. End note.) However, Hamidi noted that the biogas power generation operation in Fes has not turned a profit, due to both the regulatory inability to sell electricity to any customers other than the state power utility and the Fes municipality’s failure to pay for the power EcoMed has provided it. He also faulted bureaucratic red tape for killing off two potentially lucrative proposals: developing refuse-derived fuel, a coal-type product, from consolidated landfill waste and capturing landfill gas to power vehicles running on compressed natural gas. “No one would listen” to his claims that gas produced at the Mediouna landfill could provide sufficient fuel to run the entire 800-bus Casablanca public transport fleet.
Reda Kabbaj of Mina Connect, a Moroccan company that has worked with U.S. firms on proposals for waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, was more bullish on the potential of WTE, though he also underscored the need to be able to sell power more openly as a prerequisite for such a business to succeed. He mentioned the possibility of a feed-in tariff, though there has been limited momentum in Morocco to use such a mechanism to promote renewable energy, given favorable conditions for solar and wind energy production even without such a subsidy. Several members of the audience also expressed skepticism during the panel that Morocco should develop WTE based on concerns over emissions from such facilities. Rather than burning the waste for energy, many companies currently treat and transform their waste into fuel for cement kilns, CanPack Morocco CEO Thierry Estevez said. CanPack, which commands 100 percent of the Moroccan market for such products, treats municipal water both on entry and exit from its manufacturing facility, after which it dries and sells the wastewater sludge residue to a cement factory that uses it as a high-temperature fuel. While lauding CanPack for an eco-friendly approach, a member of the audience pointed out that there was a finite limit to how many companies could send their waste to the kilns, since the Moroccan cement manufacturing market was already saturated.
Comment: Workshop Sparks Useful Conversations, but Time Needed for Regulatory Reforms
At the conclusion of the workshop, the various panel participants and attendees nearly unanimously agreed on two factors – which had been discussed during the event – overriding all others in presenting obstacles to better management of waste and water in Morocco: inadequate regulations and a dearth of funds. For all the talk from Moroccan officials of the development of strategies to move to a more circular economy, whereby waste would be used as a resource for transformation and value creation, the lack of regulatory clarity of certain activities such as biogas recapture, wastewater reuse, and recycling at the source has effectively stymied them. The launch of the new national waste strategy appears to be more of the same – splashy headlines followed by grinding bureaucratic delays to actually encourage new investments. Regulatory uncertainty has led to difficulties in securing financing for environmental solutions, as the inability to establish revenue streams from waste or wastewater reuse precludes any hopes for amortizing such investments. The participants agreed that exploring other means of financing would be worthwhile, and with additional funds left from both the OES grant and CISE, AmCham has indicated it intends to hold a follow-up workshop within a year on the topic of green financing.
Conference sponsored by
The state department of the U.S. A
Le Cluster Industriel pour les Services Environnementaux Maroc (CISE-Maroc)