The Red City Goes Green

Walking through the streets of the Red City, Marrakech, for the first time in my life. I think to myself, yes, it is intense; the stories people have told me about the smells, the colours, the intensity of this playground of Marrakech are all true. But one thing I didn’t expect was the clean streets. Plastic was not everywhere like I see it back home in Bali. The streets, believe it or not, are clean. Even in the bustling Medina, the center of town, there was no plastic on the ground being kicked around by stressed sellers and buyers.

Is this because of the COP that is currently taking place here? Or is it maybe the fact that Morocco, 4 months ago, banned plastic bags? According to Global Citizens Magazine, “Morocco is the second largest plastic bag consumer after the United States. It uses about 3 billion plastic bags a year, stated by the Moroccan Industry Ministry. That means, on average, each one of Morocco’s 34 million people uses about 900 bags a year.” So maybe it did make a large difference when, late last year, a landmark bill passed by the Moroccan parliament banned the production, import, sale, and distribution of plastic bags across the country. The bill was initiated by Moulay Hafid Elalamy who is the Industry Minister. The bag ban became a law on July first this year and is part of a larger environmentally conscious effort across the North African country to go green.

The interesting thing here is that the ban, different than the approach in Bali, comes from the top down. This legislation was enforced by the government and the king to the people. This is different to how Bye Bye Plastic Bags has been working in Bali for four years from the ground up. Due to Morocco’s technique of having the law enforced without having educated the people on why it is important to say no to plastic bags, people are reluctant to change, especially with the struggles of having no alternatives. Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy did not return my requests for comment on the plans for alternatives bags, but on his twitter account, he mentioned that several alternative solutions would be made widely available, such as bags made of paper and fabric. The only problem is, just like in Bali, if there are alternatives, they’re still more expensive than plastic bags – which makes nobody happy.

However, while walking through the Medina, I now pay close attention and realise that the locals are taking matters into their own hands. The creative and innovative minds are coming out as I see people buying their meat and fish wrapped in old-school butcher paper. Their morning groceries of fruits and vegetables are held in traditional woven baskets or in the simple cotton carry on. I can’t say that this doesn’t make me happy. It gives me hope and motivates me to continue with our efforts to make Bali plastic bag free. Solutions are around the corner and when governments fail to provide legitimate solutions, people will create them for themselves.

Even though many experts have declared that it will take customers longer than a year to adjust and more than five years for the formal sector to comply to the new laws, I believe the transition and first step to a cleaner future is already happening, especially here in the Red City which is a place more clean than I have ever expected and is on its own local direction to becoming green. I have absolutely benefitted from being in a country that has banned plastic bags. I have learned a few errors (that we shouldn’t make) and solutions I can take back to the work we do in Bali with Bye Bye Plastic Bags. Being here for the COP22, we get overwhelmed by the many actions and decisions needed for a better, safer, greener world, but it’s important not to forget the big impact your small actions have. An easy start is to say no to plastic bags.

Written by Melati Wijsen

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