‘Garbage People’ in Cairo Recycle 80% of Trash They Find

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

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Nils Anders Lunde


Lydia Weissmuller Price

Someone needs to provide these people with lightweight, yet sturdy carts to alleviate the heavy burden on the donkeys. Wood is heavy in itself and when a cart is piled high the load can become unbearable. I never could understand why a person would sit on the cart themselves and add their own weight to the donkey's burden. Too many of these animals are abused. Their form of "recycling" is good for the earth, good for people, but a nightmare for those who actually have to pull those heavy carts.

Marie W.
Marie W.3 years ago

India has a similar group. They really help and yet are despised.

Nat Belz
Nat Belz3 years ago

Huge "detail" you've left out: the Zabbaleen are Christians who can't get any other jobs--discriminated against from day one because of their faith. Very impressive--I've spent time in these communities, and these are great folks.

Gabriella Bertelmann

Thanks to their dedication - whatever their primary motivation may be - thank you

Sheri P.
Sheri P.4 years ago

Wow...80-90% recycling rate? That's impressive! But when you're recycling stuff in order to make money to live, it's no wonder.

Sumit jamadar
Sumit jamadar4 years ago


Sumit jamadar
Sumit jamadar4 years ago


John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

I've noticed people driving around on trash days collecting metal to recycle. Unfortunately one day they grabbed the generator that was outside the garage wrapped in plastic.

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B.4 years ago

Same is in Abidjan (Ivory Coast).