22 Feb 2018
Constantine, Algeria
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

In a time when youth in the Arab world were deliberating the fates of their university degrees, an Algerian woman ruminated the idea of recycling plastics and raising awareness around the issue. And, while it took her many years to do so, she continues to resolutely lobby for environmentally charged ideas.

Besma Belbedjaoui grew up in Constantine in north-eastern Algeria, and for university, she moved to Algiers where she studied genetics at the University of Science and Technology – Houari Boumediene in 2007, followed by a Master’s in marketing and economics, in 2008. Belbedjaoui tried to find work directly pertaining to her education, but like most youth in the Arab world, she was faced with a massive decline of opportunities.

“I tried to work with my genetics or marketing degrees to no avail,” Belbedjaoui recounts. “And in 2011, a lot of movements and ideas emanated in the Arab world causing ripple effects all around.”

That was when Belbedjaoui thought of plastic recycling. “I resorted to Agence Nationale de Soutien a l’emploi des Jeunes, a national agency that supports youth employment through offering loans for projects based on innovative ideas,” Belbedjaoui says.

From a challenging start to raising awareness:

Having only gotten her ideas, Belbedjaoui left an impression and received her loan, but came with it negativities that strained the relation between her and the agency. “It was an industrial field I got myself involved in — in need of huge electrical and manpower,” Belbedjaoui explains.

Fast-forward two and a half years later, Belbedjaoui joins a competition for the best business plan, which landed her in the 3rd place and an appearance on the national television. “I talked about everything I’ve been through on my journey which was strongly received by then-local authorities, who helped fast-track the process towards starting my project, Plasticycle Algerie,” Belbedjaoui says. “It took between 2011 and late 2013 for the completion, during which I lost opportunities, income, and efforts — some people took the idea and adjusted it to work for them,” adds Belbedjaoui.

According to a 2015 Science Magazine study, eight million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans, warranting the number can increase by 10 folds over the next ten years. These plastics can come in many forms, one of which Belbedjaoui’s Plasticycle Algerie focuses on: polypropylene. “The plastic bottles we collect get grounded then washed, then dissolved into tiny pellets,” she says.

The role Plasticycle Algerie plays is that of a mediator. “We buy big amounts of plastic from wholesalers, then upon having our end product, we sell it to companies that use it in the manufacturing of textiles, plastics and more,” Belbedjaoui adds.

Though matters have eased over the years, Belbedjaoui says that Algeria is yet to pose regulating laws to encourage recycling. “We’re currently using all tools we’ve got to lobby for a change and raise awareness. From 2011 to 2018, Algeria has moved from no augmentation of recycling, to the culture of recycling and renewables,” explains Belbedjaoui.

Economics and education meet environment:

Though there is no direct correlation between economics, employment, and the environment, acknowledging the importance of enterprises and projects combining the three helps people understand and seek the experience of being part of such initiatives. “I believe that with time, there will be specialists that can take environmentalism a lot more seriously,” says Belbedjaoui, who herself is doing her Master’s in renewable energies at the University of Blida in cooperation with the University of Rostock in Germany, to be a specialist in the matter.

Belbedjaoui, however, raised a concern that stems from the lack of education. “Due to the fact that we need great amounts of plastic to recycle, we have to go to one of the mere 150 landfills, and separate the organic from the non-organic matter,” she says. “The next stage should be educating the public how to do so, while arming them with the necessities to help with that.”

“I think this experience is in many ways a very good thing for our country. It reconciles three essential areas of a nation’s development: economy, environment, and social impact,” says Karim Tedjani, an Algerian environmental activist and blogger. “It is a very good way to campaign for a more circular Algerian economy, not only with beautiful sentences, but with concrete actions. Finally, the fact that this initiative is carried by a young entrepreneur, is all the more meaningful in an Algerian society, and it is intelligent to take advantage of this generation of ambitious, talented and, above all, capable Algerian women,” he added, emphasizing on Belbedjaoui’s remarkable work of raising awareness in the form of events promoting recycling in Algeria.

Belbedjaoui is a firm believer that over the coming years these efforts will pay off, involving more communities and agencies. “Funding is key, and in return, we can and will be heard since we have the plan,” She proudly stated. Belbedjaoui’s team of six are a beacon of hope in the face of pollution, and in the process, a pedagogic institution.

 

Connect with Plasticycle Algerie through their Facebook.

Images: Courtesy of Plasticycle Algerie.

Eman is the Switchers' Managing Editor, and a finance and startup ecosystem journalist.Eman El-Sherbiny
This is how one entrepreneur stirred a plastic waste revolution in Algeria | The Switchers
Plasticycle Algerie Resource Efficiency & Sustainable Waste Management
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