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Cairo tribe recycles 80% of city waste - highest in world
May 4, 2010 9:27 AM   Subscribe

The 2009 film Garbage Dreams, which is currently airing on PBS, documents the Zabbaleen a tribe that lives off of collecting and recycling trash from Cairo. They manage to recycle 80% of trash (vs 32% in the U.S.), the highest level in the world, well above most first world recycling levels, using primitive techniques shown in the film. As depicted in the film, and on NPR, since 2003 Cairo has been hiring foreign companies, who recycle much less, taking away their livelihood. They are trying to raise enough money (you can donate, buy a t-shirt or help) to grow their Recycling school, to teach more of their children their practices. Good interview with the film director here.
posted by Berkun (13 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw this last week - I really enjoyed it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:47 AM on May 4, 2010


I watched it last night and was moved, intellectually and personally. It was one of those films that made me think "How have I not heard about this before" and also "How can I help", which I confess I don't typically feel in films like this.
posted by Berkun at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2010


After the Apocalypse, pawing through landfills will be the only way to get the rare earth minerals necessary to build microprocessors, the batteries needed to power your radio, or the specific screwdriver you need to open said radio so you can fix it.

These people... are ready. To survive... and thrive.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2010


I visited the Zabbaleen in Manshiyat naser in February, they're a generous and hospitable people who are fighting some outrageous ignorance and corruption. Last spring the Egyptian government ordered all the pigs slain in a misguided attempt to stave off H1N1 ("swine") flu, which eliminated an essential tool in their recycling efforts. I hope they can find a way to overcome these obstacles and thrive.
posted by Floydd at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2010


fighting some outrageous ignorance

Ignorance implies that the people in charge did not understand what they were doing.

On another note about pathologically oppressed peoples and their bodgering, when I was a youngster we were camping in some ass-rural village in Mexico having a cold drink and a potty break and these Indian guys kept asking us for something but the language barrier kept us from understanding what they wanted, it wasn't money or food. Finally we asked the shop keeper what they were after. They wanted our trash.

Later, on the outskirts of town we passed the same men carrying our trash bag back to their shanty. It was a fantastic wonderland of bits and pieces stuck together, like some sort of Howard Finster cathedral. I remember the shingles were flattened tin cans. It was then that we noticed that there was absolutely NO litter in the area.

Years later I went through the same town. It was filthy and gone were the Indian shacks.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:20 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


LogicalDash:

After the Apocalypse, pawing through landfills will be the only way to get the rare earth minerals necessary to build microprocessors, the batteries needed to power your radio, or the specific screwdriver you need to open said radio so you can fix it.

These people... are ready. To survive... and thrive.


As someone who lives with and loves a man who is rather-more-often-than-I'd-like bringing up the fact that maybe we should get a gun (for defense) and a motorcycle (for transport since the roads will be too jammed with cars), you have just given me the only reason possible for not watching this documentary.

But seriously*, I'm actually in the "how did I never hear of this" camp as well. Thanks for the post.

(* I actually was 50/50 serious about not letting my partner know about this.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:44 AM on May 4, 2010


While you're at it, try the Garbage Dreams game.
posted by foldedfish at 11:07 AM on May 4, 2010


The wiki article (and past versions of the page) are really interesting, as is the write-up on BBC H2G2. I imagine that most people haven't heard of the Zabbaleen is that they're ostracized for a number of reasons (including that they are Christian garbage sorters and keepers of swine, pigs are unclean animals for Muslims, and 80 to 95 percent of Egypt is Muslim). I'd imagine there was more to the mass killing of the Zabbaleen's pigs than misdirected fear of H1N1, and to the fact that the efficient garbage sorters were pushed further out by foreign companies taking their (dirty and disease-infested) work.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:26 AM on May 4, 2010


I've seen this movie and absolutely recommend it. Even if you aren't particularly into environmental issues it's just a damn interesting flick.
posted by COD at 11:46 AM on May 4, 2010


filthy light thief: Interesting that this is not mentioned in the movie (if it was, I missed it).
posted by Berkun at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2010


I actually visited Garbage City during the year I spent in Cairo. Please ignore the second half of the post.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2010


Berkun - there's a line in the current Wikipedia page ("This occupation, the only one available to them, has been limited to inorganic material by the state ordered culling of all pigs in Cairo.") that lead me to find out more. The wiki article didn't elaborate, so I searched for some more information. I still don't know why sorting of refuse is their only available job, but I'm guessing it's due to one half of the two-part group being made up of pig breeders.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:30 PM on May 4, 2010


I'm sad to say I'm pleasantly surprised by the fact that we recycle 32% in the US. Not nearly enough but more than I would've guessed.
posted by $0up at 4:48 PM on May 4, 2010


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