One city’s trash is a sub-community’s treasure. The Cairo area of Manshayet Nasser, also called 'Garbage City,' is home to the Zabaleen community that recycles and reuses upwards of 80% of Cairo’s waste.
Green energy is sprouting up in Garbage City through Solar Cities, an internationally acclaimed project recognized by National Geographic that is dedicated to helping poor communities in Darb El Ahmar and Manshayet Nasser to build solar water heaters and biogas generators out of low-cost, locally available materials.
Solar Cities in Garbage City and throughout the region is led by Hana Fathy, the coordinator and trainer of Solar Cities’ 'Green Collar Jobs' Project in Egypt. Fathy has been interviewed by international TV channels BBC, CNN and NPR and most recently by Brazilian and Taiwanese TV stations. His success with Solar Cities has sent him to Kenya, Uganda, Germany, Poland and the USA.
On average, fifteen to twenty people work with Solar Cities, constructing and training within Manshayet Nasr and beyond, while contributing writers update Solar Cities’ blog. Fathy is always scouting for new helping hands; he is concerned about the general lack of environmental awareness in Egypt, but he is also concerned for Garbage City.
Despite some online sources reporting that Manshayet Nasser has a horrible stench, Garbage City is very organized with minimal smell. The Zabaleen are productive and focused workers committed to their profession. Already seventeen systems are present in Garbage City alone, with another ten to fifteen solar and biogas system units pending.
Fathy leads the tours of Garbage City, sometimes working with Backpackers, a micro-tourism company that contributes to Solar Cities.
He begins each tour with a warm welcome into his home where visitors learn about the bio-gas generators, solar panels and their potential. Afterwards, the actual solar heating and bio-gas tanks heating his home are shown.
Fathy uses red copper as a conductor for his rooftop system, among others. Most materials are obtained from internal recycling businesses, but size- and shape-sensitive items like glass must be paid for. Foreign companies and embassies fund costs for parts and, in a rare case, entire systems. Hazard is a concern, such as overheated shower water and rusty pipes, but Fathy proofs systems from gas leaks and burns.
The tour of Garbage City continues to a plastic recycling plant, then to a textile shop that partners with the Egyptian Association for the Protection of the Environment. A trail of huge biblical scenes that are hand-cut into stone lead visitors to St. Simeon Church, a tremendous cave sanctuary. The miracle of St. Simeon is that of a humble man skilled in crafts who literally moved the mountain.
Bring extra money to buy souvenirs from the shop, which is filled with recycled paper products, rugs and accessories. The taxi driving you there will want to stop outside the entrance before leaving, but Fathy will get you a taxi at the highway near the community. Wear closed-toe shoes.
Over the past decade, the Egyptian government has obstructed the Zabaleen’s efforts to improve themselves, burying them with heavy fees. The Zabaleen previously received charity assistance from Orascom Construction. Free transportation collected upwards of 85% of reusable, organic waste from the city to be processed and used in the Red Sea resort of El Gouna.
Then, the government shut down the project and implemented its own waste management system, charging for huge trucks of foreign companies to collect various waste. The paid government workers only disorganized the meticulously sorted waste by the Zabaleen. 'They destroyed our efforts and charge us for it,' Fathy explained. The government workers no longer collect from Garbage City.
Garbage City is not a dump; in fact, it is a well-organized community in Cairo, where renewable and recyclable resources are meticulously ordered according to the smallest details; their quality, composition and potential. Paper is reused for gift items and office supplies, while cardboard is separated for construction and packaging. Plastic containers are reduced to plastic chips for exporting to manufacturing plants.To tour Manshayet Nasser, or to volunteer with Solar Cities, contact Mr. Hana Fathy at email@example.com. Visit their blog for more information.