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28/09/2016

Mediterranean embraces eco start-ups

Development Policy

Mediterranean embraces eco start-ups

Construction of a bio-gas installation, one of the many ecological innovations that is set to benefit from funding.

[Biodôme du Maroc/Facebook]

In the Mediterranean region, ecological and sustainable initiatives are being started by innovative individuals. It is hoped their business practices and efforts will trickle-down to society itself. EurActiv’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.

Ines Temimi is a Tunisian pioneer in recycling electronic waste, who started her own company, CollecTun D3E Recycling, in 2009. “In 2004, I attended a conference in the US about e-waste recycling and I told myself ‘I want to do this in my country’,” she explained.

She received a scholarship to study in the US and attracted the interest of an Italian investor – unfortunately, funding did not materialise due to administrative issues. “I wasn’t able to work with him in the end, but he gave me a lot of valuable advice,” said the Tunisian entrepreneur.

“At the moment we are able to process 90% of the plastics and metals that come to us, 7% is sent to a German partner, as we are not yet able to treat it, and 3%, mostly items such as batteries that neither us nor them can process, we are storing until we have the ability to deal with them,” she said.

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Mohamed Salama is an Egyptian living in Madrid who launched a clothing brand for children two years ago. Kutuno, made from 100% organic cotton, works in collaboration with farmers and strives to respect the highest environmental standards. “All parents want to give their children the best,” said Salama.

“It’s a question of conscience and commitment. People have to realise the impact their consumer habits have. To this end, we offer transparency and traceability. Our materials are certified completely organic. We know that our farmers are paid fairly and that part of the proceeds goes to community development,” he explained.

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Fatimazahra Beraich is a Moroccan engineer who founded Biodôme du Maroc, a firm that constructs facilities for farmers that allow them to produce bio-gas and compost. “We have tried to respond to an endemic problem in Moroccan agriculture: access to energy. Our installations allow farmers to use the very waste from their farms to produce bio-gas, powering water pumps and irrigation, as well as providing energy for domestic use,” explained Beraich.

He created the company in 2013, spending more than a year perfecting already-existing technologies. “We have accelerated and improved the method of bio-gas production. Before, four months were needed to produce a viable fuel, we’ve now got that down to two and even improved the quality. We’ve also developed odourless and silent composting facilities that can be installed in other types of businesses, not just farms,” said the engineer.

Commerically, Biodôme is a new-born, but the confidence of its founder seems unshakeable and he aims to take his innovations across borders.

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These three entrepreneurs are prime examples of the circular economy in action; collaborative and sustainable initiatives that stretch out into different parts of the world, often where development has stalled or struggled to get off the ground. They participated in an event that focused on these kinds of projects, Switch Med Connect.

SwitchMed Connect, part of the SwitchMed programme promoted by the European Union, is an annual gathering of stakeholders seeking to build synergies, exchange knowledge and scale up social and eco innovations. The programme is tasked with “strengthening the social and ecological innovations of the Mediterranean”.

At the event, held in Barcelona on 29 and 30 October, more than 350 participants took part and, as is the case at such meetings, the main benefit was networking and forging new connections. “Our initiative can be replicated in other North African countries,” said Ines Temimi. “I spoke with an Israeli colleague about a possible solution to a problem we have with certain products.”

Fatimazahra Beraich, Biodôme du Maroc’s founder, confessed that he was on the lookout for new partners, both technological and financial, in order to drive his new initiative forward.

Furthermore, a new development project, Med Recipe, was announced. It is promoted by the Union for the Mediterranean, with the support of international institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). This programme puts €8.9 million on the table to promote green and circular-economy projects that advance ecological and sustainable consumption and production in the Mediterranean region.

Med Recipe is still in its identification phase and has not yet started funding individual entrepreneurs, but the criteria it is using to find projects mean initiatives like those listed above qualify for financial support.

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In terms of the future of such initiatives, Ines Temimi argued that the recycling of e-waste is a promising sector, because we are consuming more and more technology. The Tunisian businesswoman explained that the initial focus must be on business, so that it can have a trickle-down effect on society.

“In certain sectors it is more difficult, but we have done awareness campaigns on our capacities and cooperation with foreign initiatives,” she added.

Fatimazahra Beraich extoled the virtues of these projects: “Our bio-gas and compost production projects are not only environmentally friendly, but are profitable. Farmers can sell the fertiliser they produce and get even more resources,” said the young Moroccan.