Have you ever needed to throw something away, walked up to a waste bin, and thought, “I wish my trash can had WiFi and was also powered by the sun”?
If not, I sincerely hope you’re enjoying your life in the 19th century.
To be fair, I too used to dwell in the Dark Ages. In December 2020, though, I moved from the United States to the Moroccan capital of Rabat, in search of the culinary marvel dubbed “French tacos.” Little did I know that I’d also make the greatest technological discovery of our generation.
There I was one January morning, strolling the Rabat marina to get my daily 17 minutes of sunlight, when I came across a line of 5-foot-tall metallic boxes extending the length of the boardwalk. As I approached the first of these boxes, I saw that it was covered in solar panels and ominous markings that resembled runes or my atrocious handwriting.
My initial impression was that I had stumbled upon a new type of Decepticon. When the box didn’t transform into the antagonist of a Michael Bay movie and begin hunting Shia LaBeouf, I concluded that further investigation would be required.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that the mysterious markings were actually English words and I just hadn’t been wearing my glasses. According to the writing on the side, the box was a small dumpster equipped with WiFi and a USB port for charging smartphones. Drawing on the knowledge obtained from a high-school chemistry class I almost failed, I deduced that these features were, in turn, powered by the solar panels and/or Harry Potter-style magic.
This contraption appeared to provide at least three public services: you could dispose of trash through two slots on either end of the dumpster, surf the Internet via its WiFi setup, or top up your cellphone’s battery by connecting to one of the electrical outlets (even if cybersecurity experts and common sense highly discourage plugging your electronics into random USB ports).
I had so many questions. Where had these things been all my life? How many people knew about them? What kind of mad genius thought to combine the Internet, the sun, and trash?
There was, naturally, only one way to get hard facts: soliciting information from the Rabat residents I had met on Tinder. Through my sophisticated polling methodology – which included sending the question, “Were you aware of the Rabat WiFi dumpsters?” to 15 women on Instagram – I determined that the existence of these devices was common knowledge.
But no one could tell me where the ingenious contraptions had originated. Perhaps they had just always been there, like Stonehenge or Queen Elizabeth. I needed answers.
The next step in my investigation seemed all too obvious: taking a break to eat sushi. (After all, the sushi in Morocco is quite good. Some people might even say it’s better than the sushi in Japan itself – though I don’t know those people and I’ve never been to Japan.)
I took a taxi to the bougie Rabat neighborhood of Hay Riad, which has both a sushi restaurant and, I discovered, its own set of WiFi trash cans. Seeing them lined up across the sidewalk, I decided to take a picture of one. This was, apparently, frowned upon by the powers that be.
“Why are you taking a picture?” yelled a policeman who materialized behind me.
“We don’t have WiFi-enabled dumpsters in America,” I replied.
Seemingly satisfied that I was just trying to introduce my people to the ways of the future, the policeman left me to my work. These devices were well defended, and rightfully so.
As I reviewed the documentary evidence that I had collected, this time wearing my glasses, I noticed that each box had a sticker with a phone number and the name “AccessPub” stuck to the side. I deployed the most powerful tool in my investigative arsenal – Google – and happened upon AccessPub’s website. I learned that AccessPub was a Rabat-based company and the developer of the EcoBox, the solar-powered dumpster following me across the city.
The AccessPub website said that the company had installed 560 of the devices throughout Morocco. I wondered whether this technology would ever make its way to the United States, with its obsolete trash cans that cannot access the Internet. I wasn’t even sure how a country might go about acquiring the EcoBox. There was, of course, only one way to find out.
In January, I arranged a video call with Sahar Maghraoui, AccessPub’s Communications Director at the time. She informed me that AccessPub had deployed the EcoBox to the Moroccan cities of Agadir, Casablanca, Marrakesh, Martil, M’Diq, Rabat, Tangier, and Tétouan, and was setting up the devices in Essaouira. The cities rented the EcoBox from AccessPub, which maintained the dumpsters and made money from advertisements on the side of each one.
I asked Sahar when the rest of the world might get to enjoy this divine technology. She said that Egypt had expressed interest in the EcoBox, and AccessPub was looking into further opportunities in Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. AccessPub also envisioned a partnership with the American Embassy in Rabat – a sign that it was just a matter of time before the NYPD would yell at me for taking a picture of the EcoBox in Central Park.
I was left with only one question: how could AccessPub possibly top the EcoBox?
The answer did not disappoint. According to AccessPub’s LinkedIn page, the company was also launching the Beluga, a futuristic-looking public toilet. Sahar told me that the Beluga, which had already surfaced in Salé (pun intended), would soon appear in Agadir and other southern cities.
My attempts to learn more about what made the Beluga special were frustrated by that most persistent of enemies – the French language, which AccessPub uses for its website and the majority of its posts on social media. Luckily, the company wrote one LinkedIn post about the Beluga in Modern Standard Arabic, a language I have fought a losing battle to learn since 2014 but could somewhat decipher.
The Arabic press release, highlighting the March launch of a Beluga public toilet in Tangier, boasted of the restroom’s “modern technologies,” including “a touchless system, anti-bacterial surfaces, ambient music, ambient scents, and more.” According to Morocco World News, other features range from automatic doors, motion-sensing faucets, and “free high-quality sanitary products” to “an intelligent automation system” and “six surveillance cameras.”
While I was a bit intimidated by the concept of a musical, sentient toilet, the Beluga appeared to be meeting a crucial need. Morocco World News noted that Moroccan environmentalists and foreign tourists alike have lamented a lack of public toilets in Morocco, a view shared by a number of travel websites. The Beluga’s array of “touchless” amenities seems all the more relevant in the era of COVID-19 when social distancing can be a matter of life and death.
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As the months passed, I realized that I couldn’t keep dedicating all my authorial energy to bizarre inventions. I had to make time to cover other under-appreciated aspects of Moroccan culture, such as rappers and cats. Even after I returned to the United States this May, though, the Beluga and its solar-powered sibling, the EcoBox, never strayed from my mind.
I found myself wondering what AccessPub ultimately hoped to achieve with these creations, which haunted my dreams. Thus, in my ceaseless pursuit of knowledge, I decided to reach back out to Sahar.
While Sahar had left AccessPub to joint another business by that point, she connected me with a mysterious colleague known only as “Zineb,” who, in turn, forwarded my question to AccessPub’s new Press Officer, Alae Eddine Berradi. He proceeded to give me the DL (“down low” for my non-millennial readers) in an email.
“The BELUGA does not only fulfill the essential role of a regular public toilet but also adds a level of safety and comfort to make this essential public service accessible to everyone, all bundled in an aesthetically pleasing look and a modern urban design,” Alae told me.
For the EcoBox, Alae outlined a narrower objective: “As much as a public bin might seem uninteresting and mainly neglected by most people, the ‘ECOBOX’ was our answer to make this piece of public equipment more than a simple box.” He added, “The ‘ECOBOX’ is a statement in terms of innovation and sustainability, two things that we encourage at AccessPub.”
If AccessPub aspired to make a thought-provoking trash can, I can’t imagine anyone would dispute that it succeeded. Alae also argued that “the design of the ‘ECOBOX’ makes it blend flawlessly with its surroundings,” a statement belied by all the pictures of the EcoBox in this article and its ability to moonlight as R2-D2’s half-brother. Still, it’s these qualities that give the EcoBox its charm and make the device—already a key utility among young Moroccans on the go—a dynamic feature of Morocco’s ever-evolving cityscapes.
Perhaps most importantly, Alae’s email clarified one of the enduring mysteries about the EcoBox—how do the garbage trucks of the present empty the dumpsters of the future?
“The side panel of the ‘ECOBOX’ is designed to be easy access to the waste bin without disturbing the design of the box,” said Alae. “The waste is contained in a flexible and light support which allows the ‘ECOBOX’ to be emptied with ease.”
With my remaining questions answered, I felt that I had finally achieved inner peace. Now, I just have to wait for the Beluga and the Ecobox to arrive in the United States.
Thanks to AccessPub, though, the Moroccan people don’t have to wait to live in 3021.