The Zabbaleen (“Garbage people” in Egyptian Arabic) are Coptic Christians who migrated to Cairo 60 years ago and became the garbage collectors of the city. Their family-run micro-enterprises have created one of the most efficient recycling systems in the world. They recycle up to 80% of what they collect, whereas most private garbage collecting companies can only recycle up to 25% of the waste.
After the sorting the Zabbaleen sell the sorted materials, such as paper, tin, rags, plastic materials, cloth, etc. The Zabbaleen sell these sorted materials to factories that then reuse these products, such as paper, in the creation of new material.
PT plastic, which is the plastic used to make plastic bottles for water and other beverages, is one of the most highly sought out materials. The Zabbaleen even export this material to China. They also create new materials from the materials that they have sorted. For example, granulators are used to change regular opaque-colored plastic into small plastic pellets. From these plastic pellets, a variety of plastic product can then be made, including garbage bags and plastic hangers.
The Zabbaleen method is efficient but it produces poor living conditions. They suffer from many diseases and injuries caused by working and living with garbage. Their way of life has come under threat because Cairo decided to hire three multinational garbage disposal companies.
The Zabbaleen are uneasy about the future. Sectarian attacks have increased over the past year and conditions in the community have not improved even after the fall of Mubarak’s government.