Communities Field Note: Recycling in Cairo

One of the most important needs of a community is the collection and recycling of the waste they produce on a daily basis.  In Cairo, a crowded and busy city, there is a lot of trash! There are very few public trash cans and even less recycling bins available.  It is not common for people here to recycle in their homes. Many people dump their trash on the street.  This means that there is a lot of trash in public that needs to be picked up as well as a lot of recyclable items that are not being sorted out before they are thrown out.

A community in Cairo called Manshiyat Naser sorts through the city’s garbage. The people there collect all of the recyclable items. They make a living selling recyclable items. They also make new things out of the items.  There are organizations that work to support these workers. They provide them with education on recycling, so that they can do a better job and help make the environment cleaner.

What community need did I learn about?

The community need I will be addressing is recycling and garbage collection in Egypt.  Cairo is so different from the U.S.! For example, there are not many public trash cans. I have only seen recycling bins on my university’s campus.

The environment is not one of the main topics being discussed or worked on in Cairo.  I have not noticed any environmental organizations on my university’s campus. I almost never hear people talking about recycling or working to protect the environment.

I spoke to an Egyptian friend of mine about this. He explained that most people are dealing with much more challenging issues, such as poverty. They do not have time to think about recycling. It can take a lot of money to provide trash pick-up and organized recycling. Many communities just do not have enough resources.

So, if garbage collection and recycling are two things that many communities do not have enough resources to do well, how then does Cairo manage its trash? Read on for the answer!

Why does the community have this need? 

The population of Cairo is around ten million people. It is one of the most crowded cities in the world. Trash piles up very quickly. There are not many places to put it in such a crowded city.  There is also a lack of regular garbage cans in public. Most people’s trash ends up on the street.

Another reason the amount of waste produced in Cairo is so great is that restaurants and fast food places use much more packaging than restaurants in the United States use.  Food items are often wrapped in more than one paper or container. Sometimes, you get your take-out food items in many separate bags instead of one.  Grocery stores do not charge for the use of plastic bags. I have not seen more than a couple people using reusable shopping bags.

Not only is there a lot of garbage in the streets, but tap water in Egypt is not safe to drink.  We either have to drink bottled water, or drink from special fountains where the water has been treated with chlorine.  The Nile River is also very polluted, which means one cannot drink the water or even swim in it.

Is this need being met? How?

The recycling and trash collection needs of the city are being dealt with in a way much different than what we are used to in the United States.  Manshiyat Naser is a community in Cairo where most of the residents make their living sorting the waste of the city. The garbage of the city is brought to Manshiyat Naser. The people there sort it. This is how they make a living. They sell the recyclable materials. They also make new things out of the trash.

This way of recycling is much different from the U.S. In Egypt, unlike in the U.S., most people do not recycle in their homes or use recycling bins in public places.  Rather, all garbage is mixed and sent to the workers in Manshiyat Naser to be sorted.

In Cairo, some organizations are working to help the people of Manshiyat Naser.  For example, there are some schools that teach the citizens to read and also how to recycle. They teach things like how to recognize certain brand names that pay money for their bottles, as well as skills that will help their businesses. It is very important that these schools exist, not only to help the workers but to also make sure that people recycle as much as possible.  By educating the workers, it helps lessen the amount of garbage on the streets of the city.

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