Fatih, an Algerian young man in his thirties from the town of Dergana (east of Algiers), earns a significant income that enables him to meet all his monthly needs from collecting plastic waste and selling it to workshops and factories that work in this field.
Every evening, Fatih drives around in his small truck, locally known as a “Harbil”, in the upscale and high-end neighborhoods that produce more plastic waste compared to the sparsely populated rural areas, as cities in Algeria find themselves every evening flooded with waste and substances thrown by humans, most of which do not rust or are biodegradable, and remain in the environment for long periods of time, like plastic products.
A source of livelihood
"I never imagined that I would enter this field, for several reasons, most notably society's view that looks down on people who collect recyclable waste from containers, streets, and large dumps, whether public or illegal, despite the great role we play in cleaning the environment. There are even those of us who contribute to providing opportunities for young people to invest in this field, especially those who have succeeded in developing projects for the collection of recyclable plastic waste," Fatih tells Raseef22.
"Not to mention that, people who make a living from collecting plastic waste are most at risk of catching diseases, especially skin diseases and allergies in the respiratory tract and eyes, because we are exposed to smelly odors and disgusting and ugly scenes, and most of us do not adhere to occupational safety standards such as wearing masks and putting on rubber gloves."
On the reasons that prompted him to enter this profession, Fatih says, "The salary I earn on a monthly basis is a limited income, and the price of everything is skyrocketing at a crazy rate, so I decided to look for a second job to earn extra money.”
"I entered the field with the help of friends who live in my neighborhood and have been working for a long time in the same field, as they introduced me to institutions that rely on plastic recycling.”
Siraj, a young man on the verge of reaching his thirties, is from the province of Médéa (one of Algeria’s oldest cities, estimated to be a thousand years old or more, and known as the capital of Beylik of Titteri, located 88 km south of Algiers). Siraj is like other young men who chose to pursue this profession to escape the world of unemployment, because they saw it as an opportunity to cover the costs of food, personal expenses, and pocket fees.
Successful experiences... But!
Exactly six years ago, Siraj began his profession of collecting recyclable plastic waste, like plastic bottles for soft drinks and mineral water, and then would sell them to workshops and factories specialized in this field.
The choice was not between two jobs, and which one was better, but between unemployment and work
In the beginning, Siraj collected all the recyclable waste, but over time, and after undergoing training courses in plastic recycling, he began to sort the waste he collected in order to save effort and time. He relies on placing three containers for the waste he collects. The first is for plastic waste of what he calls the "Byouti" type, which includes all types of plastic bottles, the second group is called "Bayashdi" and includes completely solid plastic sortings that are converted into refined plastic raw materials used in recycling, while the third group is called "Garnili" and includes all other plastic waste.
He reveals that dozens of young people are earning a significant living everyday from collecting plastic waste, comparable to getting paid 4,000 Algerian dinars per month. The daily wages are equivalent to 30 US dollars, and this amount can reach up to 550 US dollars per month, which is equivalent to the salary that a regular employee receives on a monthly basis.
But Siraj says that "there is no privilege without hardship, because this field is currently going through very sensitive and difficult stages, due to the chaos and monopoly practiced by large institutions.”
After nearly 15 years of working in the profession, the Algerian young man Mustafa set up a small business for collecting recyclable plastic waste funded by the National Agency for Supporting Youth Employment, better known as ANSEJ. He bought pickup trucks and hired a group of young people who were not lucky enough to find a job opportunity, to roam various neighborhoods and collect tons of plastic waste, to be sorted and recycled at the company using locally made machines.
The young man says, "In the beginning, I faced many difficulties and issues, as we used to collect large quantities of plastic without finding anyone to buy them because of the lack of factories that melt plastic and remanufacture it in the form of plastic utensils and household appliances."
The collected waste is not subject to a tax system, and this does not allow it to be included in the formal economy
“Algeria suffers from a great delay in the use of modern technological techniques in recycling plastic waste, despite their significant contribution to supporting the national economy.” This is how Dr. Shanaker Hisham, a professor and environmental researcher at the Higher National School of Forests in Khenchela Governorate and president of the Cedars Association for Environmental Protection, begins.
Hisham adds, “The obstacles that stand in the way of these young people are not limited to the use of technological methods only. Rather, this division lacks a special law similar to neighboring countries that would make it easier for investors and project owners to work in this field, especially in terms of tax exemption for each institution that operates in it.”
He says that “every institution working in this field contributes significantly to reducing the import bill of these materials, which, according to the latest statistics, are allocated huge sums of money, as Algeria imports 2 to 3.5 billion US dollars worth of raw plastic, which represents 95 percent of national needs, and it is expected that imports will reach 2 million tons by 2030, and so it is the second largest importer of these materials in Africa and the Middle East.”
Hicham asserts that Algerian society is one of the largest plastic-using societies at the international level. Algeria is included among the five countries that consume the most plastic bags in the world, and according to official statistics and indicators, 50% of its household waste is plastic, and more than 70% of it is dumped into nature, seawater, and valleys, thus causing significant environmental pollution.
The professor and environmental researcher at the Higher National School of Forests estimates the economic value of plastic waste left daily at around 6 million dinars. He believes that its recovery and valuation will allow the creation of 7,600 direct jobs, as well as the provision of 3,700 tons of raw materials, which are in fact alarming figures that sound alarm bells and require immediate action to protect the environment on the one hand, and invest in this important resource on the other, as well as keep pace with the world in this field.
A shortage of laboratories
For her part, Basma Belbajawi, owner of a startup in the field of green economy (that collects plastic materials in large quantities, washes them, and then breaks them down into small pellets to sell to local institutions that use them to manufacture different products), says, "The field of waste recycling is an economic, social, and environmental field par excellence, that can create jobs, improve the standard of living, preserve ecosystems, and support the green and circular economy.”
However, in order to develop this field, Basma stresses to Raseef22 the need to stop at points that would disrupt and impede the economic path of recycling, the most important of which is that the collected waste is not subject to a tax system, which doesn’t allow it to be included in the formal economy.
She adds, "What’s required today is for waste to be subject to lump-sum collection, which allows it to be billed after sorting and processing, which is the same method applied to the leather industry in the country.”
She concludes by saying, “This field also lacks laboratories for analyzing recycled materials that allow economic dealers to export them as a secondary value-added material.”