11 Sep 2018
Casablanca, Morocco
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

Zouhair Chakir has identified a promising source of eco-friendly business in Morocco. New laws require manufacturers to dispose of their wastewater responsibly, but only large companies have the permanent infrastructure to do so. Chakir’s business, STEPMOBILE, will eliminate this problem for small and medium-sized businesses with its mobile wastewater treatment plant, handling run-off water on an ad-hoc basis.

Chakir has set up STEPMOBILE, with a view to trading from early next year onwards. He is satisfied that significant demand exists in the market, believing that the true gauntlet at his feet will be delivering outstanding quality to customers. Given that Morocco’s wastewater challenge will not go away any time soon, Chakir predicts that STEPMOBILE is here to stay as well.

Morocco impressed the world from 2005 by introducing Plan Maroc Vert, a sweeping environmental program aimed at making the country’s agriculture and manufacturing sectors more sustainable. The reforms include laws requiring companies to dispose of wastewater responsibly and, if possible, recycle it for further use.

This ambition can only become a reality with people like Zouhair Chakir, the founder of mobile wastewater treatment business STEPMOBILE. Chakir will help smaller scale businesses to safely dispose of the water that they use, allowing them to comply with tough regulations about industrial waste.

The government reforms were introduced because Morocco faces a raft of environmental challenges, especially in relation to water. Annual reserves only extend to 1000 cubic meters of water per capita, a rate that is considered perilously close to scarcity. An increasing population means that Morocco is generating more and more wastewater which, if left untreated, can wreak havoc on the environment.

The devil, however, is in implementing these environmental regulations. “The government has the power to penalize industry for non-compliance with wastewater laws,” says Chakir, “but small and medium-sized companies do not have the infrastructure to comply.”

STEPMOBILE will offer a practical solution, visiting these businesses with a mobile plant for treating wastewater. This will allow companies to observe environmental regulations without incurring the expense and logistical hassle of maintaining a permanent wastewater treatment facility.

A lucrative market gap:

In 2014, Chakir came up with the idea for STEPMOBILE while working as an engineer for a large Moroccan manufacturing company. His employer had the resources to maintain permanent staff and facilities for wastewater disposal, but the same was far from true for other Moroccan businesses.

Chakir identified three challenges faced by small and medium-sized companies in handling wastewater, all of which pointed to a lucrative market gap. “These businesses do not have the space for treatment plants, they do not have the technical staff, and they do not have the money [for permanent infrastructure],” he says.

These realities convinced Chakir that strong demand exists in Morocco for a business like STEPMOBILE, which can treat water for safe disposal and reuse in industry. He takes further confidence from interest shown by his contacts throughout the manufacturing sector. “People I have worked with in the industry believe in the concept,” he confidently adds.

The company will offer its drop-in wastewater treatment services to a broad spectrum of clients, from food producers to pharmaceutical firms to textile manufacturers. “We are very flexible in our work and can treat [all types of] wastewater,” says Chakir.

Building up the business:

Chakir expects STEPMOBILE to open for business from the start of next year, when he will offer his clients two options they can either send in wastewater for treatment at a rate calculated by volume, or his technicians can conduct on-site visits for an hourly fee. At present, STEPMOBILE has a prototype mobile plant that can treat one cubic meter of wastewater per hour. Chakir reports that he has tested the treatment equipment in a laboratory and achieved encouraging results.

Chakir intends to expand this infrastructure further with the assistance of a $25,000 grant from the Innov Invest startup incubator program. STEPMOBILE opened up more opportunities by winning the 2017 Green Pitch Elevator contest coordinated by SwitchMed, the networking organization under which The Switchers project falls. “I am looking forward to exploring options with SwitchMed,” says Chakir.

While Chakir predicts that STEPMOBILE will have no shortage of clients, he believes that the biggest challenge will be providing customer service immediately. “We need to build consumer confidence by delivering high quality results,” he says. Chakir plans to collaborate with the Moroccan government, but will only do so once STEPMOBILE has cultivated a strong reputation in the private sector.

Looking longer-term, Chakir has no doubt that wastewater treatment will remain a vital industry in Morocco, a country fated to extract as much value as possible from its precious water reserves. “This is not a question of ‘why’,” Chakir says. “Morocco needs to make sure that wasting water does not destroy our country.”

 

Learn more about STEPMOBILE through its website ( www.stepmobile.ma) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/STEPMOBILE-1761380947430217/).

Photos: Courtesy of STEPMOBILE

Since getting his MA in Middle Eastern studies last year, David has worked as a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana, and Cairo, Egypt.David Wood
Moroccan small businesses have an attractive solution for handling wastewater | The Switchers
STEPMOBILE Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management
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