There are more than 120,000 garbage collectors in Cairo, a city of over 19 million people, generating 14,000 tons of waste/day. Whew. That's a lot of trash to collect.
These garbage collectors, known as "zabaleen" in Arabic, weren't always collecting trash. In fact, their story dates back over 50-60 years ago when they migrated from cities like Aswan, Minya, and Assiut in Upper Egypt to settle in the cities of Cairo. In Upper Egypt, they were farmers who were forced to leave their villages because of several prolonged years of poor harvests. They came to Cairo and settled as squatters in different areas which eventually became known as garbage villages - which are more like informal settlements. Because there was no organized system in Egypt to collect and recycle trash, these Zabaleen did what they need to in order to survive by going house to house, in each city, collecting and recycling trash by hand. They single-handedly became Egypt’s informal waste management system.
That meant going door to door collecting all of Cairo’s garbage by donkey and cart. The men and children are typically the ones that go out to collect trash early in the morning, while the women wait for them to return so they can sort all the garbage by hand. They find all sorts of items in trash while the women and children sort by hand such as: medications, waste, food, clothing, needles, plastic, paper, bottles, glass, liquids, and much more. Their work never really ends because there are over 20 million people in Cairo and there are about 120,000 garbage collectors.
Garbage collectors tend to recovery and recycle 80-85% of the garbage - an unprecedented recycling rate. One would think the pay for this type of efficient recycling was high, yet most of these garbage collectors are not formalized in the country's waste management system. Households are told to provide a suggested tip to collectors, without any standard pay or minimum wage.
A Remnant Remains 501(c)3 works with the local community, civil society, and partners to empower these garbage collectors to seek sustainable solutions to their current cycle of poverty. We build bridges to key stakeholders in the public and private sector to ensure this community is heard and seen. Many things are changing for the better in Egypt, and we know this community is one of them.
With the support of our partners, and people like you, we can continue to make sure the Remnant Remains in this community and flourishes beyond.