The word “Zabaleen” is an Egyptian Arabic word which means “garbage collectors”. The Zabaleen are Cairo’s informal garbage collectors since approximately the 1940’s. They are spread around seven different settlements in Cairo and number between 50,000 to 70,000 with the largest settlement at the Mokattam Mountain near Manshayet Naser where the population is approximately 30,000.
The Zabaleen used to use donkey pulled carts but now use trucks to transport the garbage that they collect from Cairo to their homes in Mokattam. There they sort the garbage, and then sell it to a middleman or create new products from their recycled garbage. .
Garbage is an asset to them as they sort through the 15,000 tonnes of garbage produced daily by the 20 million residents of the city, by hand.
The Zabaleen recycle up to 80 percent of the waste that they collect, soliciting the help of goats and pigs to consume much of the organic waste. When the Egyptian government tried hiring foreign contracts, the recycling rate fell to a mere 20 to 25 percent of the collected waste. The Zabaleen have recently been recognized by the government as an integral part of Egyptian society.