Solar Cities: Cairo’s Green Project
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
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.
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.