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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Recycling the Garbage in Cairo

Our trash collector stops by our apartment just about every other day.  He picks up whatever we have out in the plastic can in the hallway and then rings the doorbell to ask, "rrrubish?"  For this service, we pay about seventy-five cents per month.  (That's the official rate, we usually double it.)  Our collector, probably in his late teens, is a very cheerful young man.  We add fresh-baked cookies or excess fruit to his fee also.

The Cairo trash collection system is often described as informal.  It is handled by a part of the Christian community known as the Zabbaleen.  Trash collection by an ethnic minority is not unique to Egypt.  When I was growing up in Portland in the 1950s, our garbage was picked up by Eddie Lofink, one of the many Volga Germans who ran the business there.

Many visitors to Cairo take away images of piles of rubbish lying in the streets, against a building, or sometimes only slightly visible, piled high behind a stone wall.

But the garbage haulers are also visible if you know what to look for.  They might be on a donkey cart, on foot or in a truck.
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Actually, those piles of rubbish are just the beginning of a remarkable recycling process.  The edible portion will be harvested first.  Later, the haulers will perform a first sort on-board their trucks.
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This Al-Jazeera video on YouTube describes the whole Zabbaleen sorting and recycling process.  According to sources cited in the Wikipedia entry, "... the Zabbaleen recycle up to 80 percent of the waste that they collect, whereas most Western garbage collecting companies can only recycle 20 to 25 percent of the waste that they collect."

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