Cairo, Egypt has a population of sixteen to eighteen million, and utilizes an unusual trash removal system. The Zabbaleen (“garbage people” in Arabic) have been working with trash for decades, recycling what they can. Sixty thousand of them make their living from recycling. They are not officially employed by the government and are looked down upon by society. Many are illiterate and suffer from health problems due to working so closely with trash. Four to nine thousand tons of garbage are generated every day there.
Each day they collect thousands of tons of trash using donkey carts, and haul it to their neighborhood called Mokattam, where it is hand sorted. The recycling rate they claim is 80-90 percent. Some Western cities have rates of 30 percent or less. In 2003 the local government contracted with private companies with garbage trucks, but the Zabbaleen are still very involved with trash removal and recycling. It has been said the privately owned trucks only recycle about 20 percent of what they remove, and the rest goes in landfills.
PBS has produced a documentary titled ‘Garbage Dreams’ depicting the environmental, social and health issues related to trash removal in Cairo. The film follows several youth in the Zabbaleen group and their struggles for employment, education and fulfillment.
Image Credit: Egor Gravilenko, Flckr