Cairo's Recyclers

As the world watches history unfold in Cairo, I have been thinking that it was only a year ago that another fascinating Egyptian story made the news. The theme of this story centered on a people known as the Zaballeen, who draw a living by recycling Cairo's waste.

The Zaballeen story was told in the film Garbage Dreams by Egyptian-American director Mai Iskander. Released in early 2010, the movie chronicles the lives of three young teenagers. The tenacity of these youth reflects the spirit of their people, whose number is about 60,000, and is only matched by their skill. With no official sanitation services, Cairo relies on the Zaballeen as the de facto recyclers of the metropolis's waste. Some have claimed that they have created the most efficient recycling system in the world.

The Zaballeen have created the world's most effective resource
recovery system, recycling 80 percent of everything they collect.They are
actually saving our Earth. From out of the trash, they lifted themselves out of
poverty and have a solution to the world's most pressing crisis.

-Mai Iskander, director of Garbage Dreams

The Zaballeen are constantly investing in their tools and upgrading their methods, and have provided their services at no cost to residents or the city. They derive their
income from reusing and reselling the materials they gather. The BBC's Sylvia Smith
describes the Zaballeen system as "not a trail of chaos - but of professionalism, ingenuity and imagination, crystallizing into an industry as efficient as it is unknown."

Now that Mubarak has resigned, it is likely that the pigeons and tourists will again soon peacefully return to Tahrir Square. The next task at hand, of course, will be cleaning up after the throngs, which for the Zaballeenmeans business will be good.