The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Garbage Dreams

Garbage Dreams: The Life of Cairo’s Zabaleen

  • Documentary
  • Out now
  • Mai Iskander
reviewed by
Hannah Cooper
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Garbage Dreams: The Life of Cairo’s Zabaleen

isn’t new to Cairo, but have you ever stopped to think about where our trash
actually goes after it’s dumped onto the streets or taken away by the bawab? 

you’re intrigued, watch eco-documentary Garbage Dreams. Directed by Cairo local
Mai Eskandar, the documentary discusses one of the most efficient waste
disposable systems in the world, which happens to be in this very city. The
film gives us insight into the life of the Zabaleen through the stories of
three different young men who have grown up in the area and work as trash
collectors. While they express their daily hardships, their genuine spirits are
humbly felt and help open our eyes to the nature of their situation.

many of us are more than familiar with the sight of donkey carts hauling off
mounds of trash, rarely have we ever given thought as to what happens in the

the end of the 19th century, migrants from Upper Egypt began moving to Cairo,
and by 1950, over 60,000 individuals had settled in and around the area of
Manshiet Nasr near the Mokattam Hills; taking up life as Cairo’s trash collectors.
Not only did the Zabaleen set up a strenuous system of retrieving over 4000
tons of trash a day, but they also creatively produced recycling centres, where
over 75% of the collected trash is recycled and resold; making a sustainable system while also innovatively generating an income in the process.

Cairo’s ever-growing population producing trash at a phenomenal rate (some sources
estimate 25,000 tons a day: enough to fill Cairo Stadium), the work of the
Zabaleen became quickly inefficient with their simple donkey-cart-and-sorting
system. Then, the government began contracting multinational waste collection
companies that solely deal with privatised solid-waste management.

only have the contracts left thousands of Cairenes without employment, but with
0% of the trash being recycled, the landfills are growing at an alarming rate.
While the Zabaleen are struggling to make ends meet and are forming initiatives
for efficient upgrades of their waste disposal system and recycling centres, all
of the effort is at stake with no help from the government and little help from
international organisations.   

Naem Guindy is the founder of the Spirit of Youth Association for Environmental Service. The organisation
has been working diligently to not only speak out about the importance of the
Zabaleen to the Cairo community but also to launch a more efficient recycling school in the area. The school
provides a non-formal education for those that can’t afford school otherwise.
The school teaches children the basics of recycling and also provides literacy
courses among other things. 

more information on how you can help recycle your Cairo trash, check out our guide
to Going Green: Simple at Home Solutions. Also, do yourself
a favour and get your hands on a copy of Garbage
; available for purchase on the website. Not only will you learn
something new about your environment; but you may also be inspired to help make
a difference.

Like This? Try

An Inconvenient Truth, The 11th Hour, The Truth About Climate Change

360 Tip

Garbage Dreams has received over twenty awards from international film festivals worldwide.

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