Zabbalin – The Garbage Village – Muqattam
… and if you have faith you can move mountains
The tradition of garbage collection began about a hundred years ago when Egyptians from Upper Egypt moved as economic migrants to Cairo. These people contracted owners of various buildings to collect the trash. They began to separate the organic waste to feed the pigs that they raised from other materials like glass, paper, and metal which then was recycled.
A visit to the zabbalin village is rather overwhelming. The smell of Cairo ‘s refuse permeates the entire town. People patiently sit in the midst of the waste sorting out enormous piles of plastics, cardboard, glass, paper, and food waste. The area inhabited by the Zabbalin has been dramatically transformed from a collection of tin shacks in 1970, – when they were forced to the quarries at Muqattam – to a neighborhood full of stone and brick buildings. Living conditions are rather poor. Many households are not connected to the public water supplies, diseases contracted from contact with infected materials like hospital syringes, etc are endemic (like Hepatitis A,B,C), the illiteracy rate is very high.
Though the Zabbalin are marginalised by their unsavory image living at the bottom rung of society and creating aesthetic problems, the success of their recycling system is evident. Cairo produces some 10,000 tonnes of rubbish every day. About 60% of the city’s rubbish is collected, 2/3 by the Zabbalin. About 90% of the material the Zabbalin collect, is recycled and used to make quilts, rugs, pots and paper. The system the Zabbalin have developed is remarkably efficient. Each morning the men tour parts of the city in their donkey carts or small trucks, collecting waste. They then drop it off at their homes, where the women and children sort it. The best Western recycling systems can manage around 70%. The secret is that the Zabbaleen do not use the large trucks. Once the rubbish has been compacted, it cannot be easily sorted and can only go to landfill.
Among the many problems the Zabbalin are now facing comes the fear of unemployment. The Egyptian government recently announced plans to ‘Westernise’ the city’s waste management system claiming the Zabbalin’s methods are backwards and unhygienic. In terms of backwards this is completely wrong as the efficiency of the sophisticated system shows.
In comparison, the European companies hired to clean up Cairo cost USD 50 million a year, and they recycle at best 20% of the waste they collect while the Zabbalin were offered as little as a dollar a day – half of what a Zabbalin can earn working for himself.
The population of the area exceeds 30000 people most of them are Coptic Christian.
The monastery Saint Samaan and local NGOs supported by local and foreign donations are active here providing health awareness programs, environmental issues, micro-credits, educational and schooling programs. If you are interested to learn more and support the community, please email us email@example.com
NGO fact sheet:
The Zabaleen area includes about 8 NGOs and CDAs:
• The Association of the Garbage collectors for Community Development “AGCCD”: was established in 1974.
– Supporting the work of the garbage collectors.
– Providing small credits to the people to establish and own recycling projects.
– Supporting women by micro credits.
– Establishing a nursery for kids and a hand crafts center for women.
– Supporting social affairs unit in their premises.
– Transfer the residual waste to the dump sites by using their fleet of trucks and loaders.
• The Association for the Protection of the Environment “APE”: was found in 1984.
– Establishing a non formal school for girls and ladies for learning and earning through weaving rags and making patchwork quits.
– Establishing a children’s club for nursery, pre-school and literacy classes for kids.
– Establishing a paper recycling project for girls and women.
– Implementing a project for preventing the infection of Hepatitis B & C through awareness and vaccinations.
– Planting an environmental garden.
• The Saint Mary Daughters Nuns Monastery: started working in 1987.
– Establishing a hospital, Youth Club and Gabal El-Mokattam Private School.
– Establishing a Developmental Center for girls and women.
The recycling activities: The recycling projects started in the beginning of 1980 when AGCCD got a fund from Ford Foundation to give to the garbage collectors as small credits to establish recycling projects.
– The AGCCD gave small credits to 15 families of the garbage collectors to start the business of recycling
– There are currently more then 300 small enterprises are working in both of trading and recycling of the solid waste products.
– About 120 project are working in trading and recycling plastic like shredders, manufacturing plastic coat hangers, electric wires or exporting the shredded plastic especially the PET to China.
– There are about 50 paper compactors to compact the paper and the carton into balls and sell it to the paper factories in the industrial cities around Cairo
– 130 various projects are dealing with metal like iron or copper or aluminum or dealing with other items like beating the waste of the textile or collecting and selling the boons.