Zabaleen Waste Recycling

Exhibition: Cities | October 11, 2011 by

In Cairo, one of the larger cities in the world, its population of fifteen million continues to grow, straining basic services such as the collection and disposal of waste. Traditional waste collectors (Zabaleen in Arabic) go door to door collecting three tons of household waste a day. They transport the garbage to Mokattam, at the center of one of five recycling neighborhoods ringing Cairo; sort solid waste into piles of plastic, textiles, and glass; and recycle roughly 80–85% of the collected waste. As the city grows and privatizes garbage disposal, the Zabaleen face possible forced resettlement to the city periphery and limited access to their livelihood.

To educate a more competitive generation of waste recyclers, CID Consulting developed innovative partnerships with the Zabaleen and with community-based organizations to meet the demand for recycled materials. The Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) runs “Learn and Earn” recycling in Mokattam, teaching women and girls—traditionally required to stay out of the public and sort at home—skills for recovery and recycling, such as turning office paper into handmade craft paper and cards and rags into hand-loomed rugs, bags, and quilts, to generate income and support community health clinics and literacy and training programs. The Spirit of Youth group runs a buy-back center and school for boys, established to recover empty Proctor & Gamble shampoo bottles that are fraudulently refilled and resold; enrolled Zabaleen students are paid for each recovered container and are schooled in reading, writing, math, art, drama, and computing skills. The SDI network engaged in a series of exchanges to learn more about this Zabaleen community-based recycling system that generates income for the urban poor—a valuable model for cities throughout the Global South.

CID Consulting, Association for the Protection of the Environment, and Spirit of Youth. Manchiyet Nasser, Ezbet el Nakhl, Tora, Motamedeyya, and Helwan informal settlements, Cairo, Egypt, 1983–present.


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