Waste management is something we tend to take for granted in the U.S. We put the trash out once a week, make a trip to the recycling center once a month and there you have it. Problem solved.
Well in Tunisia the story is quite different. Waste management and recycling there are still fledgling industries. Littering isn’t yet a punishable crime — and plastic bags, bottles, and any other garbage you can think of, is everywhere.
But progress toward change is happening. Welcome to this week’s blog.
While in Tunisia, the group of journalists I was with was privy to a tour of an NGO (non-governmental organization) headquarters for recycling in the region of Kelibia.
Before the NGO (Kelibia Environmental Association) there were several problems. First, there was no recycling center in the area. Most of the plastics, cardboards, glass and aluminum wound up on the side of the road. Second, many of the people living around the area were un- or underemployed. Third, may of the children didn’t have a place to hang out.
The Kelibia Environmental Association took all of these factors together and came up with a solution: a community recycling center.
The center opened in 2003; since then it’s flourished. Jenhani Wahid, who oversees the center, explained. The NGO recycling center accepts four different kinds of plastic, cardboard, paper, glass, aluminum and iron. They pay members of the community to collect those items from the surrounding countryside for recycling.
The NGO is more of a middle man then anything else, he said. They pay for collecting and storing the waste, and then turn around and sell it to local companies who actually do the recycling. “Collecting is the hard part,” Mr. Wahid said. “Recycling is easy.”
The NGO outfits 80 people (68 men and 12 women) with collecting supplies — basically a big cart, bags (like the one pictured above) and gloves —and sets them loose. In addition to those community members, the NGO also pays any of the children who collect recyclables and turn them into the NGO headquarters.
This is where it starts to get really cool.
The NGO headquarters, or citizen checkpoint as they sometimes call it, is also a community center for children and teens in the region. They have a library there, free computer and Internet access, a yard and an arts and crafts area. The arts and crafts supplies are actually the same plastic bottles and cans that the children collect. The kids can cut, paint and construct them in any way they want. Many of the kids come there to hang out everyday it’s open (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.). There are about 200 children who participate regularly.
There are a few more things worth noting: All of the organic matter the NGO collects they put into a compost heap and then use the fertilizer in their gardens. They also encourage the women to use it in their private gardens at home.
Additionally, the NGO gives the children trees to plant all over the region (they’re goal is to plant 10,000), runs a free summer camp each year, organizes community meetings to explain the recycling program to citizens, and provides education to children about the importance of keeping the costliness free from trash as well as water pollution. Why focus of the children so much? Well, in Mr. Wahid words: “When you have the children with you, you don’t have to worry about the future.”
Even for a skeptical journalist — I was impressed. For any other skeptics out there, I’ll go into a little bit of their financing and background.
The Kelibia Environment Association has two full-time employees (Mr. Wahid is one of them), a few part-time workers, and LOTS of volunteers. The operation costs of the program are about 100,000 dinar a year (about $67,000).
It’s funded through ANGED, which is a acronym in French that stands for the Ministry of Environment, as well as through foreign investors including Japan and Switzerland. Oftentimes, more developed countries invest in helping underdeveloped countries go green as a part of their own environmental plan — we all share the same planet, right? 😉
Electricity for the recycling center (which is separate from the community center) comes from solar panels. Mr. Wahid said they work “reasonably well.” 😉 Similar to Bowling Green, the one recyclable he said they have trouble selling is glass. If you’ll remember back to one of my earlier posts (“Reduce, reuse, RECYCLE” | 22 Sept. 2008), the Bowling Green recycling center also is unable to find a good market for its glass — it’s almost too difficult to be worth it. But both the Kelibia Environment Association and the Bowling Green recycling center (and probably countless others) continue to accept glass so it doesn’t wind up in landfills or elsewhere as litter.
Well, that’s a lot of it, in terms of information. But I think some of the pictures below will give a better idea about the group and some of the work it does.
This is some of the plastic stored at the recycling center. Mr. Wahid said it took about two months to collect this much — impressive considering it’s all done by hand. (Just imagine this beforehand — littered across the region).
Some of the bags of recyclables the community waste collectors picked up. The cartoon animal on the front of the bags here (and pictured above) is a Labeeb, which means desert fox in Arabic. (I believe it’s called a “fennec” in English) The best way to describe him is that Labeeb is pretty much like Tunisia’s Smokey the Bear — only he’s concerned about all of the environment, not just the forests.
These are some of the saplings that the NGO provides to the children to plant around the region. The goal is to plant about 10,000 throughout Kelibia.
This is a section of the library in the community center. They’ve got a mix of books in Arabic, French and English. The books are in French because Tunisia, like Algeria and most of North Africa, was colonized by France at one time. Because of this a majority of the population, especially in the cities, speaks perfect French.
Some of the waste collected by the children at the community center that was not turned into art projects (they have to recycle some of it!) 🙂 Mr. Washid said they pay the children both in money and in gifts for their work.
I thought I’d leave you with another one of the art projects by the children at the center. The community center is literally crammed full with creations like this one. They line the walls, tables and bookshelves — but it gives the room a nice, positive vibe.
Be sure to check back for more of what’s going green in BG — and around the world.