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Selling Cans for a Greener Africa

13 June, 2017
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Can Tunisia become Africa’s hub for recycling aluminum cans? One company has signed up for the challenge of making that a reality.  

Green ALAFCO is a Tunisian aluminum recycling company that collects used beverage cans (UBC) with the goal of making Tunisia greener while pushing for the integration of the informal waste sector.

The idea was coined by Maher Oudira, the founder and CEO of Green ALAFCO. Oudira previously worked for Crown Maghreb Can, an American aluminum beverage can company based in Tunisia, as its purchasing manager. The company provided the grounds for him to explore an idea.

“I had the idea to externalize the same task. I was working in purchasing, and was in continuous contact with suppliers,” recalled Oudira. The idea struck him in 2008, during the worldwide financial crisis, and the company was later established in 2011.

Since then, Green ALAFCO has been exporting aluminum cans to Brazil and South Korea. The company exports three containers, which weigh up to 75 tons, of cans per month. The owner believes that a single country has the potential of taking up to 400 tons.

One of the company’s customers is Novelis, the biggest recycling company in the world. Two years ago, Novelis founded the biggest recycling plant in the world, which processes 400,000 tons of cans per year.

Oudira spoke of many challenges he has faced in the industry. His shift from working in the corporate sector to the informal helped him understand the need for a change.

“First, I was working in corporate, and then suddenly I found myself working with the informal sector. That's why today I'm working hard and struggling to make the informal sector formal,” he explained.

The second challenge was limited funding, and thus having to manufacture his own equipment. After raising some money, Oudira was able to produce handmade equipment to carry out the task at hand.

To compress the cans, the company uses a baler, and once that process takes place there is the need for scales, sorters, magnetic separation and conveyors.

“It was not a lot of equipment, but at the time [of the company’s beginning] it was a lot for me. I didn’t have enough finances to start a new venture, but I managed,” Oudira said.

Tunisia’s government treats the recycling business as an informal business, which results in barriers and red tape getting in the way. “For example, we pay taxes when we export metals, and even for exportation we have to go through a lot of document bureaucracy.”

This is on the environmental side, the main activity of the company. But the company is committed to a lot more as part of its desire of having a social impact.  

“In Tunisia we have thousands of informal waste pickers, who undertake a lot of suffering from the government,” said Oudira. He explained that his company is working on helping the pickers obtain basic needs and assistance, which include social security, necessary vaccinations, safety gloves and access to financing.

“We want to make their task easier and promote it,” he added.

The company is waiting for parliament to pass a law that recognizes the job. Once the law is confirmed, the government can pay social security. Until then, they are working with private insurance companies for social security, as well as working with volunteer doctors in order to get the informal workers vaccinated.  

“Meanwhile, we are not just sitting with our fingers crossed,” Oudira continued.

The company will take on the responsibility of purchasing safety gloves, and will help the workers obtain micro loans with financial institutions.

For the pilot phase, Green ALAFCO has started working with 50 people, but aims to target working with 1,000 waste pickers in two years.

“Our vision is making Tunisia an African hub for recycling used beverage cans,” Oudira told BEACUASE.

 

 

 

Tags Recycling Africa Tunisia Environment aluminum cans Green ALAFCO