Archive for the 'recycling' Category


the zabaleen – the world biggest recycling community

In Cairo, the capital of Egypt, the garbage of the population is not removed by garbage collectors that are employed by the state. Rather the garbage is removed and separated into organic and inorganic matters by the community of the Zabaleen, meaning “garbage people” in Arabic. The Zabaleens live in the south-eastern Manshiyet Nasr district of Cairo, known as Garbage City, close by the cemeteries since around forty years. Being around 30.000 to 40.000 in number they recycle up to half of the daily 6,000 tons of solid waste produced by the approximately eight million Cairenes every day. The organic waste collected is used to feed the goats, dogs and pigs while the inorganic material is sorted by hand for valuables and later recycled for cash. Of all the trash that ends up in Manshiyet Nasser around 80 percent is reused or recycled.
This has not much to do with an raising awareness of environmental issues but is rather a possibility to earn money with. However, recently 120 young Zabaleens boys are studying at the Recycling School in Manshiyet Nasr (1).

Photo by Brian Pellot showing Hanna Fathy who demonstrates a water heater he made with recycled plastic bottles.

Photo by Brian Pellot showing Hanna Fathy who demonstrates a water heater he made with recycled plastic bottles.

Since a few years there are efforts by the government to move the Zabaleen out of the Muqattam hills of Cairo to Torah which lies at the outskirts of the capital. To push the Zabaleens to move to Torah, the Ministry for the Environment and the Cairo governorate have brought legal and fiscal pressure to bear upon the Zabaleen due to their raising of pigs. The up to 40,000 animals consume the organic waste the Zabaleen bring back from the city. The dung produced by the pigs is used to create composting, exported to desert regions for the purposes of land reclamation (2).

The Zabaleen are Copts which are Egyptians whose ancestors embraced Christianity in the first century. Their place as Copts in a predominantly Muslim society is defined by the sharia, the Muslim religious legal code which designates Christians and Jews as dhimmi (which is a protected since monotheistic, but unequal status to that of Muslims). Since, according to old but still applied Ottoman law, the construction of new churches is not allowed, the Zabaleen rather excavate their sanctuaries out of the Muqattam hills they live on. There is a video on youtube about the work of the charismatic Father Sammaan with the Zabaleen where he tells how he lead them to Jesus. According to Marsh, an anthropologist who conducted fieldwork among the Zabaleen, the community’s religious leader, seems to have a complex relationship with the Cairene authorities. “Despite his proselytizing and the ‘miracles’ of conversion, he is reported to be encouraging the Zabaleen to accept the move to Torah” (2). This appears rather strange to the efforts the Father put into building their sanctuaries and serving them. However, if the Zabaleen are removed. However, the wahis, the feudal lords of the Zabaleen, who own and control the large dustcarts that move rubbish from the city to Manshiet Nasr, have themselves begun to relocate their recycling operations to. If the government do not provide equipment for the Zabaleen to work with or offer alternative work possibilities, the Zabaleen people will probably remain to do one of the most important work in Cairo how they know it.

photo by Brian Pellot

photo by Brian Pellot

The anthropologist Adrian Marsh compares the Zabaleen with Gypsy groups: “As a group whose identity is defined both by their occupation and their marginalized status, who also experience dislocation on a generational basis the Zabaleen are very similar to the Ghagar and other Gypsy groups” (2).

(1) Brian Pellot (2009). Environmental Progress in Middle East May Hinge on Financial Gains

(2) Adrian Marsh (2000). Gypsies and non-Gypsies in Egypt: the Zabaleen and Ghagar Communities of Cairo.

See pictures of the Zabaleen Community @ adbusters

Highly recommendable is also the movie of Louise Palmer that was presentated at exposures, the UK student film festival. The movie that won the Grand Jury and Documentary Award in 2006 tells the story of story of Milad, a ‘Zabbaleen’ who earns his money recycling Cairo’s waste.


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