Tunisian NGO monetizes rubbish to buy kids’ backpacks

With his organization Tunisie Recyclage, Houssem Hamdi has swapped 21 tonnes of waste for school supplies. (Credit: Tunisie recyclage / Houssem Hamdi).
With his organization Tunisie Recyclage, Houssem Hamdi has swapped 21 tonnes of waste for school supplies. (Credit: Tunisie recyclage / Houssem Hamdi).

An NGO in Tunisia is buying school supplies for students in a low-income area by picking up litter and selling it to recycling companies. Between August and September, the group Tunisie Recyclage (“Tunisia Recycling”) organized a series of drives to pick up litter from city streets and beaches.

Tunisie Recyclage, which is based in a suburb to the north of the capital, Tunis, has been working to raise public awareness about recycling since 2012 through drives to pick up waste around the city. However, in the countryside the group says it can be hard to get the message out.

This past summer, Houssem Hamdi, the NGO’s president, had the idea to start selling the waste collected and use the funds to buy school supplies for children in their community.

"In just one month, we collected eight tonnes of recyclable plastic and 13 tonnes of glass”

Hamdi, who is a computer technician by training, used social media to document the drive. His aim is to show Tunisians that garbage can be worth something:

We had grown frustrated with the government’s failure to collect rubbish. There was more and more rubbish in the streets. However, little by little, we realised that our rubbish-gathering operations were pointless because all of the waste just ended up in landfills.

We decided to start sorting the rubbish that we were collecting. That’s because some of this rubbish actually has value. Starting this past August, we decided to launch a special pilot project. We started by gathering rubbish around the cities of Tabard and Gammarth, both located to the northeast of Tunis, and then set about sorting out the things that could make us some money.


We invited people to follow us on Facebook and to follow our lead by starting to sort their rubbish at home. In just one month, we had collected eight tonnes of recyclable plastic and 13 tonnes of glass. We sold the plastic to an entrepreneur in our area [La Soukra, a northern suburb of Tunis] and the glass to a business called Sotuver. We earned close to 5,000 dinars [around 1,500 euros].

Post translated from French: “Help us gather as much plastic as we can between September 1-15. Thirty tonnes of plastic = materials for an entire school. Collect your plastic bags, plastic bottles and plastic containers etc… and drop them off at our location in La Soukra.”


We reinvested this money in the community by buying 145 backpacks, each filled with school supplies.

We handed out the backpacks on September 22 at a small school in a low-income community in Aïn Draham, a town near the border with Algeria.

Post translated from French: “Our children… our only hope for this country. Thanks to everyone who participated in our clean-up campaigns.”

We told the children that the backpacks were paid for by recycling rubbish   which was also a way to teach them about this practice! When we posted photos on social media, we got a lot of positive feedback. I hope that it will inspire others to recycle.

This photo gallery shows the campaign run by Tunisie Recyclage from start to finish. It began with volunteers collecting waste and ended with them distributing backpacks purchased with the money they made. (These photos were sent to us by our Observer Houssem Hamdi. Credit: Tunisie Recyclage.)


Tunisia’s rubbish problem got worse after the 2011 revolution. One of the major issues was that, up until 2018, there were no local elected officials. City halls were run by so-called special delegations, which were nominated after the fall of Ben Ali’s regime. Very often, these delegations struggled with city management.

However, more and more people are coming up with creative ways to address this waste management problem in Tunisia. Mohammed Oussama Houij, a 27-year-old Tunisian engineer who specialises in issues relating to sanitation, walked the length of the Tunisian coastline with the aim of denouncing the industrial pollution and the rampant littering that are both having a negative impact on the country’s beaches.

If you know of a local, citizen-led initiative that is changing things in your community, send us an email at observers@france24.com or leave us a message on our Facebook page!

This article was written by Maëva Poulet (@maevaplt).