06 Jun 2017
Tangier, Morocco
Sustainable Construction

A growing number of initiatives are emerging across the globe, with striking ways to make tiles, paving stones and other building materials using eco-friendly building materials such as plastic waste. Saif Eddine Laalej and Houda Mirouche, two students at the National School of Management in Tangier, Morocco, adopted the idea of making floor tiles from plastic waste, and Zelij was their initiative.

Their eco-friendly method of building tiles will not only increase the efficiency of energy used but also reduce waste impact on human well-being and the environment.

“I was watching a TV show, where former interior minister, Mohamed Hassad, announced that Morocco has decided to take action to eliminate plastic bags through its campaign “Zero Mika” (“Mika” is the Moroccan word for plastic),” Laalej said.

Zéro Mika came into effect on July 1, 2016, to ban the manufacture, commercialization, and importation of plastic bags. “It was then that I realized that the best solution for disposing of plastic waste is recycling it to produce new materials,” he added

You can now build your house using plastic-turned-construction materials | The Switchers

The birth of an idea: putting plastic waste into use:

Plastic waste has become a major global problem, and one that must be addressed in order to solve the world’s resource and energy challenges. Millions of plastic items are improperly disposed of on a daily basis, creating piles of plastic waste everywhere. This has brought serious damages to local environments around the world in terms of water, air and soil pollution. It blocks drains, pollutes rivers and wreaks havoc on the environment.

As a solution to the growing problem of a gloomy future with all of us being smothered by heaps of plastic, Laalej and Mirouche, devised a way to reuse plastic waste instead of cement to make ‘eco-friendly’ tiles, circumventing the energy-intensive process of plastic recycling. “Zelij is composed of 70% plastic and uses 85% less cement than concrete products,” Saif said.

By grinding up landfill-bound plastic, they were able to create a material just as strong as traditional tiles. This idea was inspired from the hardness of plastic waste and its long duration of degradation. For this reason, they thought about creating sustainable products using this waste.

Zelij prides itself in being the first Moroccan brand of ecological tiles that produces and installs pavers and tiles based on recycled plastic with different designs, color, and shape. “I was surprised but also thrilled to discover that no one has actually thought of my idea,” Saif said.

The pavers and tiles Zelij produces are not only cost-effective on both financial and environmental levels, but also harder and more durable than the typical tiles and paving products. “ Our pavers are 3 times cheaper and lighter than the regular ones.”

History of Zelij: a human ad:

You can’t really discuss Zelij without thinking about its origins. The word zelij is an Arabic word which means “little polished stone” and the word has come to encapsulate an entire genre of Islamic art from the 14th century to today. “Zelij is one of the main characteristics of Moroccan architecture and I wanted to remain true to this heritage,” Laalej said

Moroccan tiles and the art of mosaic tile making are historic in nature, dating back many centuries ago in the old city of Fez in Morocco. Handmade, hand-glazed and hand cut Moroccan mosaic tiles are crafted using traditional and regional organic clays and glaze pigments. The word “Zelij” doesn’t describe just one pattern but refers to the art of covering a surface with complex geometric patterns that reflect the beauty of the ancient art of geometry.

Values and commitments: respect for humanity and the environment:

Zelij is based on cooperation and dialogue with its artisan partners, mainly based in Morocco. Zelij’s team vision is that of an open and supportive world in which responsible economy is combined with social and environmental progress.

They are committed to respecting the environment by providing their customers a collection of aesthetically pleasing, ecologically sound building tiles.

Already going big:

According to Badia Design Inc, an importer and distributor of traditional, contemporary and classic Moroccan and Middle Eastern furniture and antique pieces, “The Moroccan tiles market, through the years, has been rising due to its benefits and advantages over carpeting.”

Flooring products are in high demand, and the Zelij team firmly believes that they will be able to have that covered. “We rented a production unit in Tangier with a capacity of 3,000 m² per month,” Laalej said.

Hend Mezzour, a conscious citizen of  Tangier and a follower of Zelij said, “Our world is changing and construction materials cannot be static. I’m happy to see such initiatives around.”

Although Zelij will not start deliveries until June 2017, it managed to attract customers and has registered orders from private individuals, estate developers and distributors of flooring products.

The startup has even caught the attention of the cement manufacturer Lafarge Holcim, which will exhibit Zelij’s products within its brand new innovation center in Casablanca.

The amount of plastic waste that Zelij needs exceeds 100 tons of waste per month. To meet these needs, the startup has its own collection network. “These sources of supply are enough for us to start, but we will have to develop our own collection network thereafter to accompany the rise in production,” said Laalej. “Zelij aims at reaching a production capacity of 40,000 square meters per month by 2020,” he added

Zelij has the ability to satisfy not only the Moroccan but also the international market by a plethora of products and expertise. With its aesthetically pleasing methods of covering a surface, Zelij seems to have moved out of its main sites of origin in Morocco and southern Spain to reach a global audience.


Website: www.facebook.com/zelij.zelij


Oumeima is a writer and a translator by day, a blogger by night and a coffee addict at all times.
She is consumed by words, thoughts & feelings.
Right now she is helping green and social entrepreneurs find their voices and tell their stories.
Oumeima Boughanmi
You can now build your house using plastic-turned-construction materials | The Switchers
Zelij Sustainable housing and construction