'Wave of plastic' washes up on Algerian beach

Rubbish washes up on a beach in Melbou, Algeria. (Photos: Khaled Foudil, OXY-Jeunes Darguina)
Rubbish washes up on a beach in Melbou, Algeria. (Photos: Khaled Foudil, OXY-Jeunes Darguina)

In early February, tonnes of rubbish washed up on the beach near Melbou, a coastal town in Algeria's Béjaïa province. On social media, our Observer posted several images of this "wave of plastic” to alert the authorities of this recurrent phenomenon, which is linked to failures with waste management.

Every winter, plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans and other waste items wash up on the beach in Melbou. Most of these items have been thrown away by people living in the area.

A video filmed on February 2 in between Souk El Ténine and Melbou was published by a website focused on news in Béjaïa.

That same weekend, professor Khaled Foudil of the University of Constantine in southeast Béjaïa and the president of OXY-Jeunes Darguina, an environmental protection association, took to Facebook to post a series of shocking photos of the “environmental disaster” unfolding on Melbou Beach.

In an interview with local press, Foudil said there wasn’t adequate waste management in local cities and called on authorities to act to remedy the situation.

"It’s nature’s revenge"

Foudil told the FRANCE 24 Observers team how the rubbish had ended up on the beach in Melbou.

Most of this rubbish is from Béjaïa province. They were carried to the ocean by two rivers, oued Soummam and oued Agrioun. Oued Agrioun empties into the ocean near Melbou.

But unfortunately, there are many landfills along the banks of the river and, when it rains, this waste gets washed into the oued Agrioun, which carries it to the sea. But when it is windy and the sea becomes turbulent, it washes the rubbish back up onto Melbou Beach. It’s nature’s revenge.

City governments should be dealing with the rubbish produced by their residents. Very often, they don’t have the financial means to manage it. What we need are adequate facilities to deal with the waste. But they are very expensive.

So instead, people throw their rubbish into uncontrolled landfills. The fact that the rain washes rubbish into the river and then the sea isn’t the only problem – there are many other health and environmental risks posed by these landfills. They pollute the soil and the water. When these landfills fill up, city workers burn the rubbish. But the burning waste, especially the plastic, creates toxic smoke that can lead to nearby residents getting respiratory illnesses.

"We can clean it up, but people won’t stop producing rubbish!”

In the summer you don’t see as much rubbish on the beaches. That’s partially because city governments devote resources to cleaning them up ahead of the tourist season. They make sure there is staff and equipment to clean up the beaches, and swimming is allowed. The second reason is that, in the summer, there is very little rainfall and the rivers dry up so they can no longer carry rubbish to the sea.

My organisation carries out campaigns to raise awareness. We also meet to clean up the beach. But currently, Melbou Beach still looks like it does in the photos. We can go and clean it, but people won’t stop producing waste. And we end up bringing the rubbish to the same landfills on the banks of the river. So that never comes to an end. Today, our aim is to force the authorities to react and to realise the urgency of the situation.

We want cities to work together to set up proper landfills. In Béjaïa, there are no modern waste management facilities. This isn’t the case in neighbouring provinces, so it is clear that in Béjaïa there is a lack of political will. We also want to develop recycling and a better sorting system.

Currently, there is an underground recycling system – some local residents collect plastic waste in landfills to sell it to companies that will recycle it. But proper, legal channels need to be developed.

Khaled Foudil sent these photos to the France 24 Observers team.

Back in 2015, a different Observer spoke to us about the waste washing up on the beach in Melbou. In the years since, the situation hasn’t improved.

>> Read on the France 24 Observers: Algerian activists fight to clean ‘rubbish bin’ beaches