Zero Waste Tunisia

Interview with Insaf Ben Rehouma by Carissa Marnce  

Insaf is a Hydraulic engineer, interested in hydraulic resources management and environment protection. She is the founder of Zero Waste Tunisia and aims to steer the female headed organisation to be among the environmental pioneers. 

Brief history of Zero Waste Tunisia?

Zero Waste Tunisia was established in 2014, the organisation strives to promote sustainable practices and to create zero waste communities through educating, engaging and empowering the different actors of the ecosystem. Zero Waste Tunisia aims to advocate throughout Tunisia to preserve the environment.

What are the organisation’s leading campaigns?

Our leading campaign  is focused on creating zero waste communities through educational workshops, specifically campaigning against food waste. We visit schools and discuss how waste is managed in Tunisia, how to sort waste and how to reduce waste. We also show students media images of the largest landfill in Tunisia, which is very close to an agricultural area. As a result of this, cows in the area are sometimes seen eating waste, which will one day end up on our plates. We then identify how our personal behaviour can start contributing towards solving the problem.This presentation is followed by a workshop to transform waste items into something useful, we then get the students to present their newly made products and convince us to buy it. The objective of the exercise is to show students that waste can be transformed and is ultimately a resource. 

 Why does Zero Waste Tunisia promote the use of  bulk products? 

Bulk products reduce considerable quantities of plastic waste packaging, it costs less than packaged products and allows you to take your own containers.Our campaign around bulk products made it possible to establish a list of shops that offer bulked products in Tunisia. 

In addition to promoting bulk products, what are some of the other zero waste principles that the organisation promotes?

We also promote reducing waste from the beginning, this involves how to choose your products, where to find them and the different zero waste options that we have in Tunisia. Our organisation also runs a virtual series of webinars titled ‘Reduce our waste, how to start’. Each webinar addresses a particular theme. During the sessions we discuss products that we consider to be  more eco friendly. We then let the public choose the next topic through a voting process. People are very interested in these webinars, because they are able to get answers to their questions on Zero Waste.

Memorable moments as an organisation?

Our main objective is to sensitize people to reduce waste and promote change in their daily behaviours. One of our most memorable experiences was when we placed sorting bins that were made by children aged three to five, in the medina for a festival. The municipality helped us put them in place for the busy festival that saw 5000 people in the area everyday. This was one of our first projects and it motivated us to continue with our work.

Biggest environmental challenges in Tunisia? 

There is a lack of environmental education in Tunisia and therefore it is easy for individuals to throw waste out of their cars. This is a big problem, and we need to change our behaviours. Our approach to dealing with this issue has been to teach the kids about zero waste, in the hopes that parents will be inspired by their children’s actions.

One of our goals is to work towards putting in place the first Tunisian zero waste municipality.

Tunisia has enforced a ban on plastic bags, do you think it has been correctly implemented?

Not at all! The laws were put in place during the first months of its implementation, and then the state did not follow up on the ban which worsened the situation. As a result of this, no one is respecting the plastic ban. The ban probably isn’t a top priority for the government, but people need this to be put in place for accountability, then only will the ban be a success. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your organisation? 

Covid-19 hasn’t severely impacted our organisation, since we are all volunteers of the organisation, the lockdown has afforded us the opportunity to step away from our normal jobs and focus more time on the organisation. We dedicated this time to working on different activities, such as the creation of our virtual webinar series on how to reduce our waste.

How do you see the organisation’s work evolving in the next few years?

One of our goals is to work towards putting in place the first Tunisian zero waste municipality. 

What do you hope the ‘new normal’ world will look like post- COVID 19?

Each one of us has had an opportunity to see the impact that this confinement has had on the planet and the environment. When I had an opportunity to go outside, I saw that the sky looked more blue, the ocean looked very beautiful and the animals reappeared. The planet had an opportunity to recover.