Morocco has suspended imports of European waste to be incinerated for energy after a spate of protests by environmental activists and outrage on social media, officials said on Thursday.

The demonstrations have occurred at a sensitive time with the Moroccan city of Marrakesh preparing to host the next round of U.N. climate talks in November on reducing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The controversy broke out last month when local media reported that cement firm Lafarge Maroc had imported 2,500 tonnes of Italian rubbish to burn for energy.

The government and cement producers group tried in vain to calm the protests by arguing that burning waste is kinder to the environment than dumping it in landfills.

“We have decided to suspend all imports of trash and to not use the shipment already imported pending the results of an investigation,” Mustapha Khalfi, the communication minister and government spokesman, told reporters on Thursday.

Morocco produces huge amounts of waste itself but has no system of sorting and recycling it, prompting cement plants to import trash, mainly from the European Union, to run incinerators.

As the EU has sought to curb dumping of rubbish in landfills now totaling 150 million tonnes a year, Morocco and other countries have increasingly imported waste to use as a cheap form of energy. (Reuters)