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Garbage People – „Recycling“ Systems in Cairo.

April 29, 2011
(C) Shawn Baldwin

(C) Shawn Baldwin

Even though Cairo has more than 8 million inhabitants it still lacks a proper garbage disposal system. Therefore waste disposal has become a job of the informal sector. This is how „Garbage City“  came into existence. Its inhabitants (known as „Zabbaleen“) gather the waste of the richer quarters for a fee and bring it to Garbage City. Up to nine thousand tons of garbage are generated there. As much as possible is recycled. Allegedly up to 90%, which is immense compared to 30% in some western cities. The Zabbaleen have invested heavily in the technology and infrastructure to achieve this efficiency. Plastic bottles are sold and other materials are use for handmade craft. Organic wastes used to be fed to pigs but due to fear of the swine flu the authorities ordered the culling of all pigs in April 2009, depriving the garbage gatherers of a major income source.

Even a local NGO exists to support the Zabbaleen. The organization runs a school and a micro-credit scheme exists here as well. A US-NGO, Solar Cities, chose the Garbage City to experiment with clean energy technologies: solar water panels and biogas systems adapted to the local circumstances are set up to improve the livelihood of the inhabitants.

I couldn’t find much information on the internet that goes beyond what I wrote. There is an interesting article in the German magazine Enorm and two documentaries have been produced, but nonetheless it would be interesting to learn more about how the garbage people make a living off the garbage they collect as this could be an approach worthwhile to be transferred to other cities.

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