The Zabaleen, known as Cairo's informal garbage collectors, play a vital role in the city's waste management system. Originating from upper Egypt and settling in Cairo since the 1940s, the Zabaleen migrated in search of better economic opportunities. With little recognition from the government, they have created a unique recycling ecosystem to sustain their livelihoods.
Comprising around 50,000 to 70,000 individuals, the Zabaleen are spread across seven different settlements in Cairo. The largest settlement, housing approximately 30,000 people, is located in Mokattam Mountain near Manshayet Naser.
ROOTA serves around 30,000 Zabaleen individuals residing in Manshayet Naser and Tora. Their efforts aim to support and empower these communities.
Despite the challenging circumstances, the Zabaleen view garbage as a valuable resource. Every day, they meticulously sort through approximately 33,000 pounds of waste generated by Cairo's 20 million residents. Through their labor-intensive work, they separate recyclable items and sell them to intermediaries or transform them into new products.
The Zabaleen's resourcefulness and dedication have not only contributed to waste reduction but have also provided economic opportunities within their communities. Their innovative recycling practices demonstrate their resilience and their ability to find value where others might see only waste.
The occupation of recycling and repurposing trash is perceived traditionally as a family business that is handed down from one generation to the next.
The government school in the district cannot support those aspiring to leave this lifestyle due to the poor quality of education training it provides. There is little money for books and school supplies and no funding for private lessons that students rely on to pass their exams and enter college. In most cases, the successful few who find employment opportunities in the city go back to the community. Mothers are illiterate and their children drop out of school at an early age.
The health of the Zabaleen women is jeopardized as they begin in the very early morning separating and sorting the trash collected by the men in the city all night. Due to contamination, there are numerous cases of trachoma, reproductive health issues, malnutrition, anemia, and Hepatitis C.
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ROOTA in ( consultative status) with the United Nations Environment Programme (since 2021) and the United Nations Economic and Social Council (since (2023).