Manshiyat Naser aka Garbage City Cairo (28 Photos)
Cairo is a city of 8 million people, yet most of the city’s garbage is collected by an unofficial labor force which has been acting of its own volition for nearly 100 years.
The “Zabbaleen,” or “Trash People,” live at the foot of the Muqqattam Hills on the city’s east side. They collect, sort, sell, recycle, and reuse the vast majority of Cairo’s refuse.
The Zabbaleen make deals with homeowners or businesses for the right to pick up their trash, often for free or very little money. A collector might work an entire neighborhood or just a block or two, on his own or with a small group. For years, trash was carried on donkey carts, but today most of it is transported on small trucks.
Once the refuse has been picked up, it is brought to the Medina Zabbaleen (“Trash City”) where the collector brings it into his yard or home for sorting.
Medina Zabbaleen has residences and commercial stores like any other relatively poor neighborhood, but much of the space is devoted to sorting and storing trash and recyclable goods. Residents make use of the rooms of their homes, as well as their rooftops, often separating different parts of the trash into different spaces.
Trash is separated into various types, including items that can be recycled or resold, such as scrap metal and plastic bottles. The sale of these items supports much of the community.
More than 90% of the Zabbaleen are Coptic Christians, a distinct minority in an overwhelmingly Islamic city and society. Many locals attend services in the Coptic church, which is essentially an enormous cave carved out of the Maqqattam cliffside.
In recent years, with the expansive growth of Cairo’s population, the city government has begun hiring professional waste-management companies from Europe to take on some of the trash collection — a controversial development.
Reaction to the new companies has been mixed, with many people arguing that they don’t do as good a job as the Zabbaleen and are too expensive.
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