Community Field Note


Garbage City

Waste management is a huge problem in Egypt!  When I was walking in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, I was surprised at all the trash in the streets!  It seems like people in the cities of Egypt just throw their trash down on the ground instead of in trashcans or recycling bins.  This was very sad to me because I think Egypt could be one of the most beautiful places in the world!

Egypt even has a place located in Cairo that is called “Garbage City.”  This part of Cairo is called “Garbage City” because the whole community makes a living off the garbage in Cairo!  The people that live in Garbage City are called “Zabbaleen” which means “garbage people” in Egyptian Arabic. 

The Zabbaleen have been collecting the garbage of Egypt for over 80 years!  There is even a documentary about the Zabbaleen that I watched called, “Garbage Dreams.”  In this documentary, or movie that teaches you about something, I learned that the Zabbaleen in Garbage City are suffering greatly.  Their way of life is being threatened and the garbage piles are getting bigger!  When I was in Egypt, I kept wondering how the Egyptian people would be able to make their streets clean.  I thought to myself, “What if there was just a huge vacuum cleaner that was on a really big truck that could drive around the city sucking up garbage!” Keep reading to learn more about waste management in Egypt!

IntroductionHow do nations meet their communities’ needs?

Egypt has had a major problem with waste management for many years.  To make the situation worse, the recent revolution in Egypt only caused more problems with their waste management.

I learned through talking to people that the old process was that Zabbaleen would go door to door, collecting the garbage of Cairo’s streets.  Then the Zabbaleen would recycle up to 80% of the garbage!  This is really amazing because even in western countries like the United States, only about 20-30% of our garbage is recycled.

However, the U.S. has established recycling programs!  In Egypt, there isn’t recycling like we have in the U.S.  All waste is treated the same. I saw glass and plastic bottles that were filling entire streams!  I also saw people throwing their bags of garbage into these streams of garbage.

Sometimes, people would burn their trash. The fires smelled really bad and the smoke would fill the air outside.  I would get headaches from the smell, so I didn’t like to be outside.  But when I told my friend Mohammed about the pollution in the air he said, “Oh, Egyptians are used to the pollution so it doesn’t bother us at all.”

I was really worried when Mohammed told me he didn’t mind pollution.  I know that in order to be healthy, people need clean air, clean water, and clean food.  In Egypt, clean air, water and food are a luxury!  This means that only rich people can enjoy clean air, water and food in Egypt.  For example, if you are poor, you don’t have money to pay for bottled water.  If you drink the tap water that is dirty and polluted, then you will be very unhealthy!  Grocery stores don’t charge money for plastic bags so I saw so much plastic on the ground that could easily be recycled!  Luckily, there isn’t much plastic wasted on packaging in Egypt.

What community need did I learn about?

Egypt needs a good waste management system.  In the past, the Zabbaleen were a great system for waste management.  But the Zabbaleen weren’t paid enough and didn’t have proper places to manage all of the waste. So when the waste became too great to handle, the Egyptian government had to try and hire some outside private companies to handle all the trash.  But then the unexpected happened!  Not even the outside, private companies could keep the streets of Egypt clean!

After the revolution in 2011, the streets have become worse than they have ever been.  The Zabbaleen want to help clean the streets but the government can’t pay them.  Also, the Zabbaleen used to make money by feeding the organic waste (so, leftover food) to pigs.  A few years ago, all the pigs had to be eliminated because of fear of the swine flu!  The Zabaleen lost both of their major sources of money and living.

When I learned about the Zabbaleen I felt really bad for them. I know they are good people trying to make a living by doing something most people don’t want to do.  The most interesting thing about the Zabbaleen is that almost 100% of them are Christians!  This is strange because in Egypt, most people are Islamic, not Christian.  The Zabbaleen have a huge underground church near Garbage City.  The Church is awesome because it is built right into the side of a mountain.  I made a friend that got to go and take pictures in Garbage City!  He told me, “I never saw anything like this place in my life! And I’ve been to many places!  You can look around and see little tiny trucks with huge stacks of garbage on them.  Also, you can see tiny donkeys carrying gigantic mounds of trash on their backs!”  I replied, “Do the people seem sad to be surrounded by so much garbage?”  He answered, “The Zabbaleen are actually really happy people!  They all were smiling while I saw them hauling trash from here to there.  On Sundays, most of them go to a Christian church!”  

Why does the community have this need?

There are many reasons that Egypt is vey dirty right now.  For one, the Zabbaleen aren’t cleaning the streets as much as they can because of lack of proper resources and finding.  Another reason that Egypt is dirty is because the new government is still trying to be put in place.  When a whole new government is being created, it takes many years to get all the programs in place.

Hopefully many programs will be created to make Egypt clean and give the Zabbaleen people the right resources and tools to manage the waste of Cairo.  It is also great that the Zabbaleen can recycle and reuse so much of the garbage that is thrown away.  For me, this gives me hope that Egypt will be clean one day!

Is this need being met? How?

Sadly, only time can help Egypt in its current war against garbage.  Maybe as the years go by, the Egyptian government will have enough money to make some great changes in their waste management system.

Also, the Zabbaleen can become the official managers of the garbage in Cairo.  Until that happens, I am afraid that Egypt is going to get even dirtier and more polluted because there are no garbage or recycling bins in the streets.  There are no signs saying “NO LITTERING” or “NO POLLUTING” in Egypt.  But I have hope that one day Egypt will be clean!  All of these things that I learned about Garbage City were from the documentary that I watched called, “Garbage Dreams.”  This is a very educational PBS documentary that everyone should watch!

 [A1]Can’t offer specific figures because this isnt’ cited


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s